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Coal Prevailed in 2022, but Renewables Remain Ascendant

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roiling energy markets, 2022 saw countries burning unprecedented amounts of coal — but also making massive investments in renewables. Experts are projecting the world will add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the last 20, with renewables rapidly overtaking coal to become the world’s largest source of electricity.

This year Russia, a major supplier of natural gas, curtailed exports to Europe, spurring a surge in coal use. And in China, severe drought sapped hydropower and drove demand for coal. Though demand globally rose only around 1 percent in 2022, the uptick brought coal burning to an all-time high, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). However, the growth is unlikely to last, said Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA’s director of energy markets and security.

“There are many signs that today’s crisis is accelerating the deployment of renewables, energy efficiency, and heat pumps — and this will moderate coal demand in the coming years,” he said. “Government policies will be key to ensuring a secure and sustainable path forward.”

Globally, governments have devoted an additional $500 billion to supporting clean energy since March, bringing the total since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to more than $1.2 trillion, according to an IEA analysis. The U.S. accounts for nearly half of this investment as a result of spending in the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“The responses from governments to the crisis are going in the right direction,” the IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “The unprecedented financial support we are seeing for clean energy transitions is improving energy security and dampening the impact of high fuel prices on customers.”

In light of recent policy changes, the IEA has revised its renewable energy projection upwards substantially. It now predicts countries will add some 2,400 gigawatts of renewables over the next half-decade, an amount roughly equal to the total power capacity of China. Renewables are expected to surpass coal as the world’s biggest source of electricity in early 2025.

“Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalize on their energy security benefits,” Birol said. “This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system.”

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