Global electricity demand increased by just 1.4% in 2019, a significant drop from the 3.9% year-on-year growth the previous year. Slow demand growth paired with the strong growth of renewables and nuclear power drove down fossil-fuelled generation globally for the first time in four decades during times of economic expansion. Global power sector CO2 emissions declined by more than 170 Mt, a 1.3% reduction year-on-year, helping to stabilise global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019.

Sluggish electricity demand growth in 2019 was due to slower global economic growth and relatively mild weather conditions in major economies. China, the world’s largest consumer of electricity, saw demand grow by just 4.7% in 2019, down from 8.5% in 2018, with a notable slowdown in electricity demand growth for industry and lower cooling and heating needs thanks to milder temperatures. The slowdown in India was even starker as electricity demand contracted by 0.3% in 2019 on the back of an economic slowdown and a sharp decline in manufacturing activity in the later half of the year. Lower demand for irrigation due to a late monsoon also pushed electricity demand lower. The demand decline in 2019 in India marked a step change from the 6.4% growth in 2018 and 7.1% over the previous decade, and was the first time electricity demand in India has falled in 50 years. Most advanced economies also saw declines in electricity demand in 2019, shifting from recent growth in the United States (-1.6%) and Japan (-3.3%), while continuing a downward trend in the European Union (-1.4%).

The growth of low carbon sources of generation outpaced overall electricity demand growth, re-shaping the power mix in 2019. Low carbon generation exceeded that of coal for the first time, providing 37% of global electricity supply in 2019, with the strong growth of renewables (440 TWh) and nuclear power (95 TWh). Renewables growth was driven by the expansion of wind power (150 TWh), solar PV (140 TWh) and hydropower (100 TWh). The increase in nuclear power output was driven primarily by a full year of operations for seven reactors in China (+54 TWh) and more reactors in operation on average in Japan (+22 TWh). Nuclear power output in Korea bounced back in 2019 (+15TWh), after a temporary step down in 2018.

Year-on-year change in electricity generation by source, 2019

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Global power mix over time, 2010-2019

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Coal-fired electricity generation decreased by 3.1% globally in 2019, a significant change from 2.8% in the previous year and only the second decline ever in a year of global economic growth. Coal remained the largest single source of electricity worldwide in 2019, though its share of 36% was the lowest since 1975. Advanced economies saw a 14% decline in coal-fired output in 2019, accelerating the recent pace of reductions. In the United States and European Union, coal-fired generation fell by record rates (15% in the United States and 26% in the European Union), in both cases reducing output to half the historical peaks. These reductions were driven by challenging market conditions and progress towards EU coal phase-out policies. In developing economies, coal-fired generation continued to grow in 2019, but at just 1.3%, the lowest rate in the last 50 years. Slower electricity demand growth and rising contributions from low carbon sources reduced the need for coal. China accounts for nearly half of global coal use in power and saw the growth of coal-fired output slow to 1.6% in 2019 from 5.3% in 2018. India saw a 2.6% reduction in coal-fired generation in 2019, the first reduction in over 40 years and a reversal of 7.5% annual growth over the past decade. Contrary to the overall trend, coal-fired output in Southeast Asia increased by 11.4% in 2019, up from 8.4% in 2018, mainly to meet higher electricity demand growth.

Global gas-fired generation grew faster than demand in 2019 at 2.7%, though down from 3.6% in 2018. Natural gas prices pushed further down in several markets in 2019, spurred on by expanding the United States shale gas production, creating favourable conditions for coal-to-gas switching. In advanced economies, gas-fired generation increased by 4.1% or 130 TWh in 2019, while coal-fired generation decreased by some 400 TWh. In emerging economies, gas-fired electricity output was lifted by 1.1% in 2019 to meet growing demand, though this was the lowest rate in two decades during times of economic expansion. Most of the growth happened in China and Indonesia, which both saw gas-fired generation rise by 10% or more.

Global CO2 emissions from the power sector declined by over 170 Mt in 2019, offsetting increases in energy-related CO2 emissions in other sectors. Lower coal use in power globally reduced related CO2 emissions by 220 Mt, more than reversing the 310 Mt increase in 2018. Expanded use of natural gas in the power sector raised related CO2 emissions by nearly 50 Mt, down from a 90 Mt rise in 2018. Oil use in power remained largely unchanged globally, lowering associated emissions by just 4 Mt.

In the Asia Pacific region, electricity demand growth slowed to 3.2% in 2019, down from 6.5% in 2018, met by higher output for all sources except oil. The pace of electricity demand growth was cut by half in China and by one-quarter in Indonesia. Total demand declined for the first time in 50 years in India and Korea, and continued to decline in Japan. Across the region, renewables growth covered two-thirds of new demand in 2019 led by hydropower, solar PV and wind, complemented by nuclear power meeting over 20%, coal 18% and gas 2%. Hydro remained the largest renewable source of electricity at 14% of the power mix, while wind and solar together provided 7%. The low carbon share of electricity supply reached 29%, up from a low of 20% in 2011, though coal remained the foundation of electricity supply (58% of the total). Power sector CO2 emissions in the region increased by 1.4% in 2019, well below the 20-year average of 5.5%.

China expanded the use of all sources to meet electricity demand growth of 4.8% in 2019, down from 7.4% over the past decade. Low carbon sources met 70% of new demand, up 240 TWh year-on-year, helping their share of the power mix climb to its highest level ever (32%). Renewable electricity increased by 10% year-on-year, led by gains for hydropower, solar PV and wind power. Nuclear power output rose by 16%, with the first full year of operations for seven large-scale reactors and two new reactors operating for half of 2019. Coal-fired generation increased by 2% in 2019 and remained the primary source of electricity in China (64% of the total). Gas-fired power output climbed 10% year-on-year, but remained a minor part of electricity supply. Power sector CO2 emissions edged up by 135 Mt in 2019, the 2.8% rise was well below the 5% average growth over the past decade. Still, China’s share of global power sector CO2 emissions climbed to 37% in 2019.

In India, the first reduction of electricity demand in the past 50 years enabled renewables growth (+30 TWh) to directly displace coal-fired generation. Two-thirds of the renewables growth came from higher output from existing hydropower sites, complemented mainly by new solar PV projects. 2019 marked the first time in India’s history that coal-, gas- and oil-fired generation all declined in the same year. Coal-fired generation declined by 2.6%, a sharp correction from 5.4% growth in 2018, but still provided over 70% of total electricity supply. Oil-fired generation fell below 1% of electricity supply for the first time in the modern era. Power sector CO2 emissions in India declined by 37 Mt in 2019 (‑3%), the largest single-year reduction in India’s history.

In the United States, the power mix was re-shaped by market forces pushing a shift from coal to gas, government policy supporting wind and solar PV, and the weather. The United States electricity demand declined by 1.5% in 2019, a sharp correction from 3.6% growth in 2018, in part due to milder weather in summer and winter. At the same time, the power mix underwent a significant change. Coal-fired generation declined for the fifth consecutive year, falling to just 25% of electricity supply. With natural gas prices 45% below 2018 levels on average, coal-to-gas switching accounted for the majority of coal’s decline, complemented by the contraction of electricity demand, and a small increase in low carbon generation. Natural gas-fired generation increased by 7.2% in 2019, hitting a record high share of 37% in the mix. Renewables output increased by only 2%, as lower hydro output offset half the gains for wind and solar. While the United States grew in 2019, power sector CO2 emissions fell by 7.6%, to the lowest level since 1986.

Electricity generation mix in advanced economies, 1971-2019

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In the European Union, a strong shift away from coal-fired power led to record-low power sector CO2 emissions in 2019, 40% below the high-water mark set in 2007. In 2019 alone, CO2 emissions declined by 13% through a combination of declining electricity demand, coal-to-gas switching and rising renewables. Electricity demand fell by 1.4% year-on-year on the back of energy efficiency efforts and mild weather. Policies and market conditions drove down EU coal-fired generation by one-quarter in 2019, to just 15% of the power mix. Germany alone made up one-third of the decline for coal-fired power. Half of coal’s decline in the European Union was covered by higher gas-fired generation. Renewables increased by just 4% in 2019, as lower hydropower output offset one-third of gains for wind power and solar PV. Among renewables, hydro remains the largest source (41% of total renewables), followed by wind (31%), bioenergy (16%) and solar PV (10%). Nuclear power remained the largest source of electricity in the European Union at 26% of generation.

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