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Wind and solar added more new energy than any other sources in 2023

Wind and solar combined in 2023 generated more new energy than any other source for the first time in history, though the world still burnt record-high levels of oil and coal.
Olivia Peluso
wind farm
Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Wind and solar combined in 2023 generated more new energy than any other source, for the first time in history, according to data released Thursday by the Energy Institute. 

Wind and solar together were the largest source of new energy in 2023, comprising 40% of the net increase, per the Statistical Review of World Energy 2024 report. This is the first time in history that these newer forms of energy have outpaced each of the fossil fuels, which remain the world’s dominant sources of energy. The rest of the increase came from oil (39%), coal (20%), and nuclear (4%). Gas stayed flat, and hydropower fell by 8% due to droughts.

Combined, wind and solar power contributed 37 exajoules (EJ) to the global energy system, an increase of 15% year-over-year. Wind and solar output overtook nuclear in 2021, and, in combination, they are likely to overtake hydropower this year. 

Together, wind and solar accounted for 13% of global electricity supplies in 2023. And, the expansion of wind and solar is expected to continue – or perhaps even accelerate – if the global goal of tripling renewable capacity by 2030 is met. 

A recent review by the think tank Ember found that wind and solar are growing faster than any other sources of electricity in history, and are now growing fast enough to exceed rising demand. The rise of wind and solar has been quelling the growth of fossil fuel power, which would have been 22% higher in 2023 without them, Ember found.

Still heading in the wrong direction

2023 also saw record-high global demand for energy, with coal and oil use reaching new highs. The record-high usage of coal and oil drove global emissions to another record, with emissions from fossil fuel burning, industrial processes, flaring and methane topping 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for the first time. Oil demand grew 2.6%, surpassing 100 million barrels daily for the first time.

The Energy Institute's data confirms earlier analyses from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Global Carbon Project, both of which found that fossil fuel emissions reached a new record high in 2023. 

“With CO2 emissions also reaching record levels, it’s time to redouble our efforts on reducing carbon emissions and providing finance and capacity to build more low carbon energy sources in the global south where demand is growing at a rapid pace,” said Simon Virley, head of energy and natural resources at KPMG.

In total, fossil fuels met 81.5% of global energy demand in 2023. While this is a record low, it is only roughly 4% lower than a decade earlier and 5% below the level seen in 1990. 

Climate scientists say that with global temperatures approaching the 1.5C limit, time is running out to peak and reduce emissions to avoid dangerous levels of warming. New records for coal, oil, and carbon emissions indicate the world is still going in the wrong direction. 

While global demand for oil and gas is not expected to peak until later this decade, some say reductions in coal use could still lead to a near-term peak in global carbon emissions. Global gas demand has flatlined for the past two years, validating claims made by the IEA in late 2022 that the “golden age of gas” had been brought to an end by the global energy crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Another key question for global emissions is whether China has already peaked and, if so, how quickly its emissions will begin to decline.