This report provides a mid-year update to Ember’s annual Global Electricity Review. It compares the first six months of 2021 (H1-2021) to the same period in 2019 (H1-2019), to show for the first time how the electricity transition has changed as the world rebounds from the impact of the pandemic in 2020.
We have researched monthly electricity data to June 2021 for 63 countries covering 87% of the world’s electricity production. We have made this data available in full for all to use.
Rising global electricity demand outpaced growth in clean electricity, which led to an increase in coal power, raising CO2 emissions. Global power sector emissions rebounded in the first half of 2021, increasing 12% from the lows seen in H1-2020, so that emissions are now 5% above the pre-pandemic levels of H1-2019. Global electricity demand also rose by 5% in the first half of 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels, which was mostly met by wind and solar power (57%) but also an increase in emissions-intensive coal power (43%) that caused the rise in CO2 emissions. Gas was almost unchanged, while hydro and nuclear saw a slight fall. For the first time, wind and solar generated over a tenth of global electricity and overtook nuclear generation.
No country has yet achieved a truly ‘green recovery’ for their power sector, with structural change in both higher electricity demand and lower CO2 power sector emissions. Several countries including the US, EU, Japan and Korea achieved lower power sector CO2 emissions compared to pre-pandemic levels – with wind and solar replacing coal – but only in the context of suppressed demand growth. Countries with rising electricity demand also saw higher emissions, as coal generation increased as well as wind and solar. These ‘grey recovery’ countries are mostly in Asia: China, Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan and Vietnam.
China needs to urgently expedite its electricity transition. China’s electricity demand rose by 14% from H1-2019 to H1-2021 and is approaching EU per capita levels. Over two-thirds (68%) was met by coal power and the rest by wind and solar (29%). China was responsible for 90% of the world’s increase in electricity demand and 43% of the world’s increase in wind and solar during this period. It added more coal power (+337 TWh) than the EU’s total coal generation in H1-2021. As a result, China’s share of global coal generation rose from 50% in 2019 to 53% in H1-2021.