Solar shines as the main new power-generating technology

Solar and wind project deployments

Photovoltaics (PV) dominated as the main new power-generating technology source added to grids in dozens of countries ranging from Australia, to India, Italy, Namibia, Uruguay and the U.S. in 2019.

With 118 gigawatts constructed, PV topped all other technologies in new-build terms and was the most popular technology deployed in a third of nations, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).

81 countries built at least 1 megawatt of solar during the last year and solar accounted for nearly half of all new power generation capacity constructed worldwide.

Solar in 2019 also moved past wind (644GW) to become the fourth largest source of power on a capacity basis, behind coal (2,089GW), gas (1,812GW), and hydro (1,160GW). There is now more wind and solar capacity online worldwide than total capacity from all technologies, clean or dirty, in the U.S.

“Sharp declines in solar equipment costs, namely the modules that go on rooftops and in fields, have made this technology widely available for homes, businesses and grids,” said Luiza Demoro, BNEF analyst and lead author of the study.

Solar’s contributions are considerably smaller due to PV’s lower capacity factors compared to fossil fuels. In 2019, solar accounted for 2.7 percent of electricity generated worldwide, BNEF found, up from 0.16 percent a decade ago. BNEF said 140-178GW of new solar will be built in 2022.

From 2018 to 2019, power produced from coal dropped 3 percent as plants ran less frequently. The average utilization rate at coal-fired power plants has dropped from 57 percent in 2010 to 50 percent in 2019. Still, the 9,200 terawatt-hours (TWh) produced from coal in 2019 was up 17 percent from 2010.

Global coal capacity surged 32 percent over the decade to reach  2.1TW in 2019. Over 113GW of net coal retirements in developed nations during the 2010s could not offset the 691GW flood of net new coal in emerging markets. In 2019, the world saw 39GW of net new coal capacity installed, up significantly from 2018 when 19GW of coal was completed.

Wind and solar accounted for over two-thirds of the 265GW of new capacity installed in 2019. The two technologies also accounted for the majority of new generation recorded in 2019. Including hydro power, renewables made up three-fourths of 2019 commissioned capacity.

Wind and solar build was mostly concentrated in wealthier nations during the first half of the 2010s but that has shifted recently.

BNEF estimates that global power sector CO2 emissions slipped 1.5 percent 2018-2019 as declines in the U.S. and EU more than offset an increase from China, which accounted for 37 percent of the 2019 total. The U.S. followed with 14 percent and the EU with 6 percent, the report said.