Solar & wind are deposing king coal
- Dec 31, 2022 9:00 pm GMT
Worldwide, coal burning for electricity generation is at record levels. The world is at peak coal. Solar & wind will soon cause rapidly declining coal burning.
Australia is a global solar & wind pathfinder and is demonstrating that rapid decarbonization of electricity is straightforward. Australia’s National Electricity Market reached peak coal in 2008. Since then, the coal fraction of electricity production has fallen from 85% to 58%.
In Australia, coal is NOT being replaced by fossil gas, which only generates 7% of electricity.
Coal in Australia is being replaced by accelerating deployment of solar & wind. Solar & wind production rose from nearly zero in 2008 to 9% in 2017 and 26% in 2022. The Government target for 2030 is 75% solar & wind electricity plus 7% from existing hydro and 18% from coal and gas.
PEAK COAL HAS ARRIVED
In most countries, coal power stations are being retired faster than new coal power stations are being built. Most of the existing coal fleet will grow old and retire before 2050.
In 2021, about 250 Gigawatts (GW) of new solar and wind generation capacity was installed worldwide compared with only 16 GW of net new coal generation capacity. It follows that solar & wind generation will rapidly overtake coal generation.
SOLAR & WIND
Solar & wind generators comprise three quarters of global net generation capacity additions because they are cheap compared with fossil, nuclear and other renewables.
The market dominance of solar and wind is compelling market-based evidence that they are the most competitive and practical method of deploying new electricity generation capacity today.
Global installed solar capacity grew 500 times larger over the past 20 years. Further growth of another factor of 60 is needed to fully decarbonize the world by mid-century. Historical growth rates of solar are fast enough to achieve this. Solar installed capacity is tracking towards passing the combined capacity of nuclear, hydro, gas and coal in 2031.
Australia is generating 3 times more solar energy per person than in the USA. Australia is physically isolated from neighbouring countries and cannot share variable solar & wind electricity across national boundaries. Australia must cope alone with high levels of solar & wind and is finding the task to be more manageable and less expensive than many people anticipated.
Storage is a solved problem. Australian Governments have announced about 15 GW of pumped hydro energy storage to support Australia’s rapid build of solar & wind. This is equivalent to about 200 GW in the USA on a per capita basis.
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