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'New Normal': After a bumper 2020, renewables keep riding high in 2021

Friday, May 14th 2021, 2:20 pm - Though China is expected to slow down slightly, the European Union and U.S. are expected to gain ground, and the world as a whole is poised for a renewables renaissance.

After its best year in more than two decades, renewable energy looks to keep up its breakneck expansion into the post-pandemic period.

Far from being held back by COVID-19, year-on-year renewable capacity installations jumped 45 per cent in 2020, the fastest growth since 1999, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which foresees rapid expansion for at least the next two years.

“Exceptionally high capacity additions become the ‘new normal’ in 2021 and 2022, with renewables accounting for 90 per cent of new power capacity expansion globally,” the IEA’s May 2021 Renewable Energy Market Update reads.

The IEA says solar installations will “continue to break records,” and by 2022 will be around 50 per cent higher than before the pandemic. As for wind, the IEA foresees a slight slowdown in growth in 2021 and 2022, but even that ebb will be 50 per cent higher than the 2017–2019 average.

Solar panels American Public Power Association Though wind installations look to slow down slightly in 2021, solar is expected to continue into record territory, the IEA says (American Public Power Association/Unsplash

The outlook is so rosy, in fact, that the IEA has even revised some expectations upward. In the U.S., for example, onshore wind installations are expected to be 25 per cent higher than the agency’s last check-in six months ago, driven largely by changes in renewables tax credit policy in the intervening period.

“Governments need to build on this promising momentum through policies that encourage greater investment in solar and wind, in the additional grid infrastructure they will require, and in other key renewable technologies such as hydropower, bioenergy, and geothermal,” IEA director Fatih Birol said in a release from the IEA. “A massive expansion of clean electricity is essential to giving the world a chance of achieving its net zero goals.’’

CHINA SLOWS, THE REST OF THE WORLD PICKS UP THE SLACK

China, and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, has stood out for the sheer scale of new renewables installations in the past few years. In 2020, the country set a new world record for wind energy at 52 GW of new capacity, double its 2019 haul, even if it also notched the only increase in coal generation (by two per cent) in the entire G20. Many of its neighbours also had record years.

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However, the IEA says part of the reason behind the rapid expansion last year was developers rushing to take advantage of particular wind and solar subsidies prior to their expiry. As such, the country’s 2021 renewables growth is expected to fall by as much as 25 per cent, though staying above pre-pandemic levels this year and in 2022.

“Growth may accelerate again after 2022 only, stimulated by new policy measures aligned with the country’s ambitious long-term target to attain net-zero emissions by 2060,” the IEA says.

However, that slower pace in the short-term will be offset by growth in other markets such as the U.S. and European Union. The latter is on track to increase its new installations by 11 per cent, breaking a record for the first time since 2011 and nudging the bloc into second place worldwide for total installed capacity.

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