Despite remarkable growth, solar and wind power aren’t making a dent in carbon emissions, says a new report from the International Energy Agency. Coal consumption is growing too fast to offset any gains from renewables.
According to the report, solar power capacity increased by 42 percent, and wind increased 19 percent during 2012. In comparison, coal only grew by 6 percent over the last two years. But because the total installed capacity of coal power was already huge, the amount of coal capacity added was much larger than that of solar and wind power. Even the increase in natural gas consumption hasn’t decreased the use of coal worldwide (see “Coal Demand Falls in the U.S., Rises Everywhere Else”).
Renewable energy can’t keep up with coal, let alone decrease its use. From 2001 to 2010, the amount of electricity generated with coal increased by 2,700 terawatt hours. Over the same period, electricity from non-fossil sources—including wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and nuclear—increased by less than half that amount: or 1,300 terawatt hours.
Worldwide, more coal power is being installed because it’s inexpensive, reliable, and easy to incorporate into the grid. Before countries decide to stop building new coal plants, wind and solar and other low-carbon alternatives need to get cheaper, says Matthew Stepp, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.