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IEA: Global power demand to jump 4.5% as renewables remain ‘largely immune’ to COVID-19 impacts

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

Global demand for electricity is predicted to rise by 4.5% in 2021 – equivalent to 1,000TWh – following heavy reductions as a result of COVID-19.

This is according to the IEA’s latest Global Energy Review, which found this projected increase is almost five times greater than the decline in 2020, cementing electricity’s share in final energy demand above 20%. Almost 80% of this increase in in emerging markets and developing economies.

Global energy demand is also set to increase, jumping by 4.6%, offsetting the 4% contraction in 2020 and pushing demand 0.5% above 2019 levels. The majority of this - 70% - is also in emerging markets and developing economies, where demand is set to rise 3.4% above 2019 levels, while energy use in advanced economies is to be 3% below pre-COVID-19 levels.

Demand for renewables is also set to have a strong year, having grown by 3% in 2020, with the IEA stating renewables have “proven largely immune to the pandemic” as new capacity has come online and the technologies have benefited from priority market access in many markets. This was despite the lower electricity demand, supply chain challenges and construction delays around the world.

In 2021, demand for renewables is to increase across power, heating, industry and transport, with the power sector leading the way with a project expansion of 8% to reach 8,300TWh - the largest year-on-year growth on record in absolute terms.

Breaking that down, solar PV and wind are expected to contribute two-third of renewables’ growth. The share of renewables in electricity generation is projected to increase to almost 30% in 2021, the highest share since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Wind is expected to record the largest increase in renewable generation, growing by 275TWh – or around 17% - from 2020. Solar PV is expected to rise by 145TWh – or almost 18% - and to approach 1,000TWh in 2021.

China is to generate 900TWh from solar PV and wind across the year, 580TWh to be generated by the European Union and 550TWh from the United States.

However, demand for fossil fuels is also set to increase in 2021, with coal demand project to increase be 60% more than all renewables combined, underpinning a rise in emissions of almost 5%.

Of this, 80% is concentrated in Asia, with China alone projected to account for over 50% of global growth. Coal demand in the United States and the European Union is also rebounding, the IEA said, but this is still projected to remain well below pre-COVID-19 levels.

Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, said the projected increase in coal is a "dire warning" that the economic recovery from COVID-19 is currently "anything but sustainable for our climate", adding that unless governments around the world move rapidly to cut emissions, "we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022".

In the UK, coal use is on the decline as coal-fired power stations close across the country. SSE's Fiddlers Ferry and RWE's Aberthaw B both closed in March 2020, while Drax is set to cease generation using its remaining two coal units this year.

Meanwhile, EDF recently announced plans to shutter its West Burton A station in September 2022, leaving just Uniper's Ratcliffe-on-Soar plant generating past 2022.

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