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Wind and solar generation grow despite 4.5% global primary energy consumption drop

The share of solar and wind - such as that from BP's Titan 1 Wind Farm in the US (pictured) - in the power mix grew in 2020. Image: BP.

The share of solar and wind - such as that from BP's Titan 1 Wind Farm in the US (pictured) - in the power mix grew in 2020. Image: BP.

2020 saw the largest annual decline in primary energy consumption since 1945, with a drop of 4.5%, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2021.

This was largely driven by oil, while wind, solar and hydro generation all grew, with wind and solar capacity increasing by 238GW in the year, 50% larger than any time in history.

Breaking down this figure, solar capacity expanded by 127GW while wind grew by 111GW, almost double its previous highest annual increase.

The share of renewables in power generation also increased, rising from 10.3% to 11.7%, while coal’s share fell by 1.3% to 35.1%.

In the UK, the ban on coal generation has been brought forward to 2024, with only one coal-fired power station - Uniper's Ratcliffe-on-Soar - to still be in operation from 2022.

Last year has been hailed as Britain's greenest, with Drax Electric Insights finding that solar and wind generated 30% of the country’s energy demand, increasing by a sixth on 2019 to supply over 100TWh of electricity.

Globally, BP's analysis showed that across 2020, electricity generation fell by 0.9%, more than the only other year in BP’s data series – 2009 – that saw a decline, which was by 0.5%.

Demand across 2020 reduced as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, with the spring months being particularly affected in the UK. Across the May bank holiday, it was forecast that the UK's electricity demand would drop to an all-time low of just 13.8GW.

Alongside the drop in demand, BP also found that globally carbon emissions from energy use fell by over 6%, with this also being the largest decline since 1945.

"These trends are exactly what the world needs to see as it transitions to net zero – strong growth in renewables crowding out coal," said Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist.

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