At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy consumption plunged. All major categories of energy production declined except one. Despite the largest drop in global primary energy consumption since World War II, global renewable energy consumption increased by 9.7% in 2020. This is remarkable given the impact of the pandemic on the total energy demand.
Energy trends across all categories rebounded in 2021. But renewables once again led the pack. From 2020 to 2021, global renewable energy consumption has increased by 15%.
Over the past decade, global renewable energy consumption has grown exponentially, at an average annual rate of 12.6%. Renewables are the only energy category that has seen double-digit global growth over the past year and decade.
As a reminder, in 2010, the world consumed 10.5 exajoules of renewable energy. By 2021, that had reached 39.9 exajoules. The 5.1 exajoule increase in renewable energy consumption in 2021 was a record year-over-year increase, and it set a new all-time high for renewable energy consumption in one year.
Hydropower, which the review reports as a separate category, is growing globally at a much slower rate than modern renewables like solar power. Global hydropower consumption in 2021 was 40.3 exajoules, which is even more than wind and solar. However, the 10-year average annual growth rate for hydropower is well below just 1.5%.
Overall, hydroelectricity accounted for 6.8% of global primary energy consumption in 2021, just ahead of the 6.7% of modern renewables like wind and solar. But modern renewables will finally overtake hydropower in overall consumption this year.
Within the renewable energy category, wind (49.0%) and solar (27.2%) accounted for the bulk of consumption. Although wind power consumption maintains a good lead over solar power consumption, the ten-year growth rate of solar power consumption continues to be more than double the growth rate of wind power.
China is the world’s largest consumer of renewable energy. China’s growth rate over the past decade also far exceeds all other members of the Top 10. Cumulatively, the top 10 consumers accounted for 75.9% of global renewable energy consumption in 2021.
But here is the challenge facing the world. Against the backdrop of the global increase of 5.1 exajoules in renewable energy consumption, global energy demand has increased by 31.3 exajoules in 2021, more than six times more. Based on current trends, it would take more than a decade before the growth of renewables could match the growth in global energy demand.
One energy source that could help immensely as the world strives to reduce carbon emissions is nuclear power, the subject of the next article in this series.
By Robert Rapier
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