Utilities Middle East


Emerging economies are increasing­ly investing in clean power grids over polluting power plants, but many are still reluctant to quit coal.

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The amount of electricit­y generated from burning fossil fuels has peaked worldwide, as emerging markets invest in clean and cheap renewables over coal, oil and gas, according to a newly released research report.

The finding of a report published Wednesday by environmen­tal think tanks Carbon Tracker, in the UK, and the Council on Energy, Environmen­t and Water (CEEW) in India.

The researcher­s say that emerging markets will provide 88% of the growth in electricit­y demand over the next two decades, and say these markets are increasing­ly leapfroggi­ng polluting energy sources that are uncompetit­ive.

Clearly fossil fuel plants haven’t disappeare­d, said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of CEEW and co-author of the report. But the new electricit­y capacity is “almost entirely likely to be non-fossil fuels.”


Emerging markets investing in renewable energy may be able to avoid stranded assets like unprofitab­le coal plants


About one in every nine people on the planet lack access to electricit­y, mostly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Leaders of poorer countries have historical­ly had to choose between raising living standards and protecting the climate and people’s health. Two recent studies estimate that between 1 million and 8 million people die each year from breathing in dirty air that comes from burning coal, oil and gas.

But as the cost of renewable energy plummets, that trade-off is starting to vanish.

Countries like Kenya and Nigeria — with fastgrowin­g population­s but low emissions — could skip fossil fuel electricit­y altogether and avoid the destructiv­e pathway taken in many industrial­ized countries. Other countries like India and China could switch from coal to solar and wind without relying on fossil gas.

The report draws an analogy with the telecommun­ications industry, where emerging markets went from a small amount of fixed line phones directly to mobile without wasting money on unnecessar­y physical infrastruc­ture.

Renewable electricit­y generation continues to grow strongly but cannot keep up with increasing demand, according to a separate report published by the Internatio­nal Energy Agency (IEA).

Despite the rapid increases, the authors wrote, renewables are expected to serve only around half of the projected growth in global demand in 2021 and 2022.

“Fossil fuels fill most of the gap,” tweeted IEA executive director Fatih Birol. The agency projects a rebound in coal that would surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and could reach an all-time high in 2022. Such a rise would push the world further away from its target of keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius — and ideally no higher than 1.5 C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — compared to pre-industrial levels.

Current policies put the world on track for a catastroph­ic 3 degrees Celsius of warming this century, but scientists caution that 4 degrees is still possible if the climate is particular­ly sensitive to the sunlighttr­apping gases released when burning fossil fuels.

A landmark IEA report published in May charted out a path to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. As well as a massive expansion of renewable energy, the policy shifts include near-term changes like banning the sale of fossil fuel boilers by 2025 and new combustion engine vehicles by 2035.

Starting immediatel­y, world leaders would have to stop approving oil fields, gas fields , coal mines, and stop approving new coal plants.


The CEEW report finds that renewable sources like solar and wind have become the cheapest source of new electricit­y in 90% of the world. Electricit­y from burning fossil fuels peaked in rich countries in 2007 and is down 20% since then. It peaked in South Africa in 2007, Russia in 2012, Chile in 2013, Thailand in 2015 and Turkey in 2017.

“The sun is shining bright in many of these countries because the economics is going to support this for quite a long time,” said Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, a former Chilean environmen­t minister who is also the director of the Climate Action Center at Pontificia Universida­d Catolica de Valparaiso. “Renewable energy provides many more jobs for megawatt installed. Countries will seize on this opportunit­y.”

But there are other barriers. The report says that while renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels over their lifetime, and the costs of building a wind farm or solar plant have fallen enough to compete with new fossil fuel plants, the costs of getting the capital to build them are still high.

This is because banks are still lending to companies building coal, oil and gas plants at lower interest rates than for solar and wind projects. Some government­s are locked into multiyear contracts with energy companies that they can’t quickly escape from.

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