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Renewables increased by 4% in 2018, accounting for almost one-quarter of global energy demand growth. The power sector led the gains, with renewables-based electricity generation increasing at its fastest pace this decade. Solar PV, hydropower, and wind each accounted for about a third of the growth, with bioenergy accounting for most of the rest. Renewables covered almost 45% of the world's electricity generation growth, now accounting for over 25% of global power output.

Growth in renewable electricity generation by technology, 2017-2018


Growth in renewable electricity generation in selected regions, 2017-2018


The power sector led the growth, with renewables-based electricity generation increasing by 7%, almost 450 TWh, equivalent to Brazil’s entire electricity demand. This was faster than the 6% average annual growth since 2010.

Solar PV, hydropower, and wind each accounted for about a third of the growth, with bioenergy accounting for the majority of the rest. Taken together, renewables were responsible for almost 45% of the world's increase in electricity generation. They now account for almost 25% of global power output, second after coal.

China accounted for over 40% of the growth in renewable-based electricity generation, followed by Europe, which accounted for 25%. The United States and India combined contributed another 13%. Renewables have also grown rapidly outside of these major markets.

Solar PV electricity generation had another record year, growing 31%. Since 2015, annual solar PV capacity additions have more than doubled, reaching close to 100 GW in 2017.

China’s annual solar PV capacity additions were at 44 GW in 2018, which was lower than the increase of 53 GW in 2017. This followed a new government policy that aims at a sustainable and cost-effective solar PV expansion and slowed down growth.

In the United States and India, solar PV annual capacity additions remained similar to 2017 levels while additions in Europe have resumed growth for the first time since 2015.

Electricity generation from wind grew by an estimated 12% in 2018, keeping its spot as the largest non-hydro renewable technology. The global growth was similar to 2017, despite the decreasing global capacity expansion over the period 2015-17.

China's wind capacity expansion increased from 15 GW in 2017 to 20 GW in 2018 as the government lifted a development ban in certain regions after improvement in curtailment levels since 2016. In Europe, wind capacity expansion was lower last year compared to record-level installations in 2017, while the US market showed a slow rebound.

Hydropower output increased by an estimated 3%, a faster growth than in 2017 despite declining global capacity additions since 2015. This is the result of continuous drought recovery and stable economic growth in Latin America, as well as strong capacity expansion and good water availability in China.

After a record-level increase in 2017, hydropower generation in the United States returned to normal levels in 2018. Overall, hydropower remains the largest renewable energy technology, accounting for around 60% of all electricity supply from renewables.

Renewable electricity generated from other technologies grew by 7%, dominated by bioenergy. Geothermal electricity increased mostly in Turkey, with some gains also seen in Indonesia and the United States.

In transport, global biofuels production increased 6% in 2018. Brazil’s ethanol production rose 12%, boosted by low international sugar prices that favoured ethanol output. It was also helped by higher price competitiveness at the pump at a time of higher oil prices in the first three quarters of the year.

Ethanol production in the United States continued to grow in 2018, supported by an abundant corn crop and high capacity utilisation by domestic ethanol facilities. China saw a record growth of 24% as it increased efforts to implement nationwide consumption of 10% ethanol blended with gasoline. India’s production rebounded, driven by a large supply of feedstocks and relatively higher oil prices.

Bioenergy, including its traditional uses in developing countries, remains the largest renewable source. While a decline in traditional uses would improve global health, modern use of bioenergy in industry and buildings holds great potential. Solar thermal energy remains the second-largest renewable heat source, mostly deployed in buildings for water heating. However, capacity expansion has slowed since 2013, a trend that is expected to continue in 2018 as a result of expiring incentives and a weaker housing market in China.

Overall, the use of renewables needs to expand much more quickly in all three sectors to be on track to meet long-term climate goals, cleaner air objectives, and aims to provide access to modern energy sources, as demonstrated in the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS).

In this scenario, the share of renewables in the power mix needs to rise from one-quarter today to two-thirds in 2040. In the provision of heat, renewables need to rise from 10% today to 25%. In transport, renewables need to rise from 3.5% today to 19%, including both direct and indirect use, e.g. renewable electricity for heating and electric vehicles.