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2023: The Best Year Ever For Clean Energy

Thanks to the massive progress installing wind and solar, forecasts have been regularly ripped up this year. Including the International Energy Agency, which announced in October that global fossil fuel use may peak this year, two years earlier than predicted just 12 months ago.

President Biden and President Xi shaking hands
President Biden and President Xi | Wikipedia

Perhaps the strongest reason for optimism is that more than 120 countries, including the world's two largest carbon emitters, China and the US, also agreed to aim to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030 - a target that, if met, would keep the world on track for 1.5°C, as per the goal set in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

So, what are the other clean energy highlights of 2023? Here's a quick synopsis that should put a smile on your face.

Sunny Future: The world installed an astonishing 413 GW of solar this year, 58 percent more than in 2022, which itself marked an almost 42 percent increase from 2021. That means the world's solar capacity has doubled in the last 18 months. In September, the IEA announced that solar photovoltaic installations are now ahead of the trajectory required to reach net zero by 2050, and that if solar maintains this kind of growth, it will become the world's primary source of energy by 2030.

China's Emissions to Fall Next Year: This is probably the most important climate change story of the year, because China is the world's largest carbon polluter, and was supposed to still be six years away from peak emissions. The reason for this extremely welcome shift? The country's unprecedented buildout of 300 GW of solar and wind in 2023, almost double its 2022 total. It's the largest ever single year deployment of energy in human history. “There’s nothing you can benchmark this against."

The Inflation Reduction Act: The IRA is the single largest commitment any government has yet made to vie for leadership in the next energy economy, and has resulted in the largest manufacturing drive in the US since WW2. The legislation has already yielded commitments of more than $300 billion in new clean energy. Whatever you say about Biden's administration, this is a remarkable legacy. This year a record 33 GW of solar was installed across the country and carbon emissions will fall by around 3 percent. Meanwhile, 12 states have now passed laws requiring a shift to 100 percent clean electricity, Texas is undergoing the fastest pace of clean energy expansion anywhere in the world outside China, and California's battery storage capacity has surged tenfold in just three years.

Europe's Decarbonisation: Coal generation in Europe plummeted in 2023, leading to fossil fuels' share of electricity generation falling to a record low of just 17 percent in the first half of the year, while solar installations increased by 40 percent for the third year in a row. The continent has also managed to kick its addiction to Russian fossil fuels, phasing out coal imports, reducing oil imports by an astonishing 90 percent and reducing fossil gas imports by over two thirds since 2021. Meanwhile, the UK reported that carbon emissions have fallen by more than two-thirds in a decade.

EV Slowdown? Global electric vehicle sales increased by over one third this year, bringing the world's total to 41 million electric vehicles. It's an extraordinary transformation: just two years ago, one in 25 cars sold globally was an electric vehicle. This year it will be one in five, and by 2025, one in two. The IEA now says that electric vehicle sales, like solar installations, are tracking ahead of its net zero scenarios. In the US, where the media spent much of the year insisting there's been a slowdown, sales were up 50 percent, and growth in China was even more explosive: two in every five new cars sold was electric. Oh, and the Tesla Model Y became the best-selling car in the world in 2023. Not just electric cars - all cars! And let's not forget the two wheel revolution: there are currently 280 million e-bikes and scooters in use around the world - 10 times as many as the total number of four-wheeled electric vehicles. In fact, e-bikes and scooters are displacing four times as much demand for oil as electric cars at present.

Clean Energy Elsewhere: Rooftop solar overtook coal as Australia's biggest source of electricity capacity, the Philippines saw explosive growth in offshore wind, South Africa's rooftop solar sector became the fastest growing in the world, Brazil invested billions into grid transmission, and Vietnam finalised its Just Transition agreement, including no new coal, which is great news for the planet, because it has the world's third largest coal pipeline.


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