A few months ago, it appeared that a global power shortage was about to reverse the energy transition’s momentum. Due to coal shortages in China, solid fuel costs soared to ($299.29) for every metric ton, causing power outages and industrial closures as generators stopped selling power (fixed-tariff) at a loss. The enormous sucking sound of Asian systems sucking up liquefied natural gas, combined with inadequate supply from Russia as well as the Netherlands, sent gas prices rising in Europe. They’ve already risen to 146.93 euros ($165.74) for every megawatt-hour, upwards of six times their start-of-year figure.
These squabbles prompted alarming warnings on the occasion of COP26 climate change meeting in November: The transition to zero-carbon power was fueled by well-intentioned naiveté rather than a realistic assessment of what a 21st-century power system requires. To give the world the secure electricity it requires, the energy revolution would have to be reversed.
Those predictions don’t appear to be coming true as the year draws to a close. In fact, the power shortage appears to be hastening the shift away from the fuel-based energy, whose variable prices triggered the crisis, and toward zero-carbon electricity, whose costs are set when the program is first developed.
Consider China, which produces about a third of global emissions and consumes more than half of the world’s coal. Over the last few years, the country has experienced a massive behind-the-scenes conflict between its dominating coal sector and President Xi Jinping’s decarbonization policies. The power outage in September prompted a boom in government-approved solid fuel production to avoid repeated blackouts. In November, 371 million tons of coal were dug up, setting a new record and approximately equaling a year’s worth of coal use in the European Union.
While the mountain of soot has bolstered dwindling supplies of power plant fuel as well as lowered prices, little has changed in the overall direction of motion. Coal-fired generation actually decreased in November compared to the same month a year ago, as wind and solar accounted for a bigger amount of grid power. Solar installations in 2022 will increase by around 50% to 75 gigawatts, according to the China Photovoltaic Industry Association’s head, after a slow year owing to the expiration of renewable subsidies and broader electricity market reforms. Maintaining that rate of development, combined with the Global Wind Energy Council’s prediction of approximately 45 gigawatts of wind turbines, should burst through Xi’s comparatively cautious renewable installation plans, allowing China’s emissions to climax years before his 2030 objective.
The same pattern can be seen in other places. According to the International Energy Agency, wind generation will nearly quadruple by 2026, with about 3,154.8 terawatt-hours produced globally. Over the same period, solar will nearly triple in size, reaching 2,299.8 TWh, increasing total renewable electricity production to 11,323.5 TWh, or about 42 percent of all the grid power in 2019.