Renewables are the second largest source of global electricity generation. They accounted for 26% of world generation in 2019, behind coal but ahead of gas, nuclear and oil. From 2018, renewable electricity showed an increase of 5.0%. However, this is a slight slowdown from a growth rate of more than 6% a year in the period 2015-2018. In the global renewable power mix, hydro has by far the largest share with 60.2%, followed by wind (20.3%), solar PV (9.7%) and solid biofuels (6.3%).

Historically, the relative positions of renewables and natural gas have been influenced by various factors, including weather conditions and prices. Policies that favour renewables over fossil fuels have also contributed to the increasing importance of renewables in world electricity generation.

Fuel shares in world electricity generation, 2019


As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable electricity generation in OECD countries sped up in 2020, growing 6.9% from 2019. Between 2018 and 2019, the growth was 4%. The renewables share in the electricity mix advanced from 27.3% in 2019 to a new record high 29.9% in 2020. This expansion was due to a combination of factors such as electricity market structures and policies that favoured renewable electricity input into the grid, even as total demand fell as a result of extended lockdowns.

In the OECD, hydro power generation accounts for the largest share of renewable power generation – but it had the lowest average growth rate of any renewable electricity source from 1990 to 2020. With a 20.1% average annual growth rate, wind grew from 0.3% of renewable electricity in 1990 to 28.8% in 2020,  making it the second largest renewable source for electricity.

Solar PV renewable electricity generation grew 32.7% a year on average in the OECD in same period, and in 2020 it is the third largest renewable technology accounting for 13.2% of the renewable mix.

Average annual growth rates of electricity production in OECD, 1990-2020


From 1990 to 2019, the share of renewables in generating capacities increased in OECD countries, with the average annual growth rate of renewables and waste generating capacities (3.9%) outpacing the average annual growth rates of non-renewable generating capacities (1.4%). As a consequence, the total capacity factor1, which measures how much power was generated compared to what theoretically could be generated, decreased from 50.8% in 1990 to 40.2% in 2019. This decline was mainly due to the increased share of variable renewables such as wind and solar PV, whose capacity factors in 2019 were 28.4% and 13.6%, respectively.

Shares of OECD generating capacity, 1990-2019

  1. The capacity factor is defined as: the annual gross electricity generation divided by the net capacity times 365 (days/year) times 24 (hours/day).