Floating solar PV and wind turbines at Houlong Flood Detention Pond in Miaoli, Taiwan. Photo: © Jack Hong / Shutterstock.com

Greening electricity

Wind and solar produced more than 10% of global electricity in 2021, for the first time. They also surpassed nuclear, which fell below 10% for the first time in several decades. Hydro is still the top non-fossil electricity producer, but solar and wind are growing much faster.

In 2021, for the first time, solar and wind power provided more electricity to the world than all nuclear power (see table). This is one of many key points that can be found in BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy June 20221, and it is a landmark. It was the first time that solar and wind surpassed 10 per cent of global electricity generation. It was also the first time in many years that nuclear did not exceed 10 per cent.

The remaining 62 per cent is fossil power. What the climate needs is for fossil power to be eliminated by the three non-fossil sources. Of these, renewable power alone is a credible candidate for the job. So far, renewables have only reduced the growth of fossil power. The next doubling of solar and wind will cut fossil power, and emissions, in absolute terms.

Nuclear has moved sideways for almost two decades, globally. It has decreased in the EU. Renewables are now predominantly wind and solar, the least controversial sources. Some of the remaining renewables are also generally seen as benign: particularly geothermal, tidal and some bioenergy.

Hydro is also controversial but not accounted for as renewable in BP statistics. It is the biggest of the three non-fossil sources of electricity, but renewables are growing much faster

Politics and history play a big role in which energy sources different countries choose – much bigger than geographical conditions. Nuclear power is mostly found in countries that have or had nuclear weapons ambitions and is found in countries with high risks of earthquakes and tsunamis, weak infrastructure and extensive corruption, as well those with stable bedrock and management. It is found in rich and poor countries.

Wind power is mostly found in countries that developed it as an alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Sunnier countries have more solar power. But there are many examples of countries with very good conditions that have almost no solar power at all: Russia and most of the former Soviet republics in the south, most of the Middle East and, with some exceptions, Africa.

Fredrik Lundberg

Link to AirClim briefing: https://www.airclim.org/publications/fossil-free-electricity-2021
1 See https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-revi...

Table. Electricity generation by source.

  TWh electricity, World   Average annual growth 2010–2021, % Share 2021
 2010  2020   2021
Nuclear 2,769 2,694  2,800  0.6 9.8
Hydro 3,429 4,346 4,274 1.9 15.0
Renewables1  761 3,147 3,657 74.3 12.8
Solar & wind  370 2,362 2,915 120.4  10.2

1Note that solar & wind is a subset of renewables.



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