Power

Tracking Clean Energy Progress

Not on track

Power sector emissions increased 2.6% in 2017 and a further 2.5% in 2018, following three years of decline. In contrast, emissions in the SDS fall on average 4.1% per year to 2030. The SDS also sees emission intensity of electricity falling by 3.4% annually. In 2018, emissions intensity fell by only 1.3% as a result of generation from low-carbon technologies rising 6%, offset by a 2.6% increase in non-abated coal.

Davide D'Ambrosio
Lead author

Power sector CO2 emissions

	Gas	Coal	Total
2000	1.75	6.46	9.30
2001	1.83	6.61	9.51
2002	1.93	6.76	9.64
2003	1.99	7.26	10.20
2004	2.09	7.52	10.57
2005	2.17	7.80	10.92
2006	2.25	8.22	11.35
2007	2.36	8.61	11.85
2008	2.41	8.56	11.83
2009	2.41	8.40	11.65
2010	2.61	8.95	12.41
2011	2.65	9.41	12.98
2012	2.76	9.53	13.25
2013	2.70	9.87	13.49
2014	2.73	9.84	13.44
2015	2.84	9.57	13.26
2016	2.94	9.51	13.25
2017	2.96	9.82	13.59
2018	3.05	10.10	13.93
2020	2.99	9.18	12.89
2025	3.13	6.99	10.66
2030	3.01	4.46	7.84
2035	2.64	2.23	5.13
2040	2.16	0.93	3.29
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Back to TCEP overview 🕐 Last updated Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Tracking progress


Global electricity demand increased 4% in 2018, with low-carbon generation expanding 6% to meet a considerable share of this growth.

Nevertheless, coal remained the largest source of electricity generation with an increase of 2.6%. Power sector CO2 emissions rose by 2.5% as a result, with coal responsible for 80% of this increase.

In 2018, 42% of all energy-related CO2 emissions came from the power sector, causing it to remain the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions. It is therefore increasingly critical that the power sector deliver the access, air pollution and climate outcomes of the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) for the clean energy transition to be successful.

Carbon intensity

After stalling in 2017, the carbon intensity of power generation declined 1.3% in 2018 to an estimated 478 gCO2/kWh. This change resulted from a 7% increase in renewable generation (thanks to policy support and falling costs) and a 3.3% increase in nuclear generation, somewhat offset by 2.6% higher coal-based generation.

The decline in average carbon intensity of electricity generation must accelerate to 3.4% per year, however, to meet the SDS level of 220 gCO2/kWh in 2030, which is less than half the current value.

This considerable reduction in power generation carbon intensity is one of the cornerstones of the SDS, especially since electricity is increasingly used to meet end-use energy demand.

Achieving this reduction will entail a significant shift in the technology mix.


Carbon intensity of electricity generation in selected regions

To be in line with the SDS, most new capacity additions should be low-carbon.

	China	India	United States	Southeast Asia	World	European Union
2000	898	806	620	587	534	402
2001	875	802	656	591	543	396
2002	893	785	583	589	531	401
2003	915	771	586	577	542	404
2004	879	801	585	579	539	393
2005	850	784	583	592	539	390
2006	844	770	559	577	540	391
2007	809	797	568	596	544	397
2008	775	806	551	594	533	373
2009	770	829	522	575	528	354
2010	749	805	527	597	526	344
2011	764	776	507	586	534	346
2012	740	853	484	563	532	347
2013	725	812	486	561	528	328
2014	680	834	482	583	517	313
2015	651	775	452	594	502	306
2016	628	725	430	589	487	289
2017	620	723	420	592	484	282
2018	605	705	411	591	478	262
2020	557	647	370	574	433	223
2025	431	496	258	473	332	155
2030	286	337	149	322	221	81
2035	133	198	75	202	126	51
2040	43	118	25	141	69	35
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Share of low-carbon generation

An important indicator of clean energy transition progress in the power sector is the share of low-carbon technologies (renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage) being used. In 2018, 36% of generation came from low-carbon technologies – an increase of less than 1% from 2017.

Alignment with the SDS will require profound transformation of the power sector to limit CO2 emissions, reduce air pollution and enlarge energy access. A drastic change is needed to attain 63% of generation from low-carbon technologies, with solar PV leading in installed capacity in 2030 under the SDS, followed closely by wind in the late 2030s.

Generation from coal must decline sharply to 16% in 2030 and only 5% in 2040, with 65% of plants fitted with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). Natural gas still figures in the generation mix in the SDS because of its lower CO2 emissions, with gas-fired generation increasing until 2030 and then declining to 14% in 2040.


Shares of electricity generation by source

The share of generation from unabated fossil fuels must decline from 64% today to below 40% in 2030.

	Low carbon	Renewables	Unabated fossil fuels
2000	35.35	18.57	64.50
2001	35.09	18.14	64.76
2002	34.51	18.06	65.34
2003	33.33	17.61	66.51
2004	33.65	18.03	66.19
2005	33.32	18.19	66.50
2006	33.02	18.34	66.82
2007	31.78	18.07	68.07
2008	32.28	18.76	67.59
2009	32.94	19.55	66.92
2010	32.62	19.79	67.22
2011	31.80	20.15	68.04
2012	31.97	21.12	67.88
2013	32.53	21.92	67.31
2014	33.25	22.61	66.59
2015	33.67	23.08	66.18
2016	34.52	24.06	65.34
2017	35.00	24.73	64.85
2018	35.71	25.49	64.15
2020	39.62	28.89	60.26
2025	49.38	37.83	50.52
2030	62.71	48.62	37.19
2035	76.13	58.40	23.77
2040	85.52	66.24	14.39
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Investment

Global power sector investment fell by 1% to just over USD 775 billion in 2018, with lower capital spending on generation. Investment in electricity networks edged down, although investment in battery storage surged by 45% from a relatively low base.

Investments in coal-fired power declined by nearly 3% to their lowest level since 2004, mainly as a result of decreased spending in China and India. After rising to a ten-year high in 2012, gas-fired power spending also decreased, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and in the United States.

In 2018, coal-fired power final investment decisions (FIDs) declined by 30% to 22 GW, their lowest level this century.

Most FIDs are now for high-efficiency plants, with inefficient subcritical plants comprising only 10%. The largest fall in FIDs was in China, but levels in Southeast Asia were their lowest level in 14 years. India was the largest market, now largely oriented towards supercritical technology, but levels were 80% lower than in 2010.

FIDs for gas-fired power also dropped for the third consecutive year, by nearly 15%, though remained twice as high as those for coal.

The largest declines in gas FIDs were in the MENA region (-50%), where there is excess capacity in the power system, and the United States (-30%). In contrast, they grew in China by 70%, and for the first time more gas-fired power capacity was sanctioned than that of coal.

Renewables-based power investment edged down by 1%, as net additions to capacity were flat and costs fell in some technologies, but spending was also supported by plants under development

Investment in electricity networks decreased modestly (‑1%) in 2018, with China and the United States accounting for nearly half of global spending.

Spending on transmission grids (around 30% of network investment) has risen steadily since 2014 to support the connection of more generation, system integration of variable renewables and large-scale interconnection projects.

Investment in the United States increased 8%, with 60% of spending going to distribution grids.

Spending in the EU rose by 8%, largely for transmission.

In India, grid investments amounted to over USD 20 billion, mostly for transmission, as distribution spending became more moderate. The Central Electricity Authority recently announced that USD 40 billion in transmission spending is needed in the next three years – 60% more than the current level.


Global power investment by technology

Global power sector investments fell by 1% to just over USD 775 billion in 2018, mostly as a result of lower spending on thermal power. With less spending on coal-fired power in China and India, investments declined nearly 3% to the lowest level since 2004.

	Fossil fuel power	Nuclear	Renewable power	Electricity networks	Battery storage
2005	127.8	6.93679	120.567	203.18896	0.0154194
2006	136.109	6.61481	143.122	217.03528	0.00823651
2007	150.033	7.98596	182.943	230.83411	0.00261101
2008	166.71	11.67	214.98	248.77	0.11
2009	173.51	17.23	244.78	235.54	0.06
2010	173.21	21.50	294.10	255.54	0.09
2011	175.40	22.67	315.37	263.87	0.22
2012	170.81	25.27	294.84	254.83	0.18
2013	156.94	31.10	293.78	263.27	0.42
2014	148.49	34.60	298.74	270.44	0.80
2015	143.65	36.23	308.63	286.53	1.49
2016	140.14	41.88	316.83	297.84	2.43
2017	133.72	46.94	312.72	290.78	2.84
2018	126.91	47.29	313.39	288.34	4.12
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Reducing policy uncertainty

For all low-carbon power technologies, long-term target and policy stability is necessary to ensure investor confidence and continued growth. At the same time, however, policies need to continuously adapt to changing market conditions to achieve greater cost-competitiveness and to better integrate variable renewables into the system.

Policy design for variable renewables

Renewables – especially solar PV and wind – are rapidly transforming power systems worldwide. While renewables are becoming increasingly cost-competitive, market design and policy reforms will soon be necessary to guarantee at-scale investments in new renewable capacity and in power system flexibility to reliably and cost-effectively integrate high shares of variable renewables.

As variable renewable energy shares expand, policies to ensure investment in all forms of flexibility are becoming crucial.

Carbon pricing and regulations

Carbon taxes and the regulation of plant emissions could encourage coal-to-gas switching and provide an important long-term investment signal for CCUS.

Also required are additional electricity market mechanisms that recognise the potential benefits of natural gas-fired power as a lower-carbon alternative to coal-fired generation with operational flexibility that allows for better integration of variable renewables.

While CCUS in power is still at an early stage of commercialisation, complementary and targeted policy measures such as tax credits and grant funding will be needed to secure investment. Nevertheless, new coal-fired units should be constructed CCUS-ready, with efficiencies consistent with global best practices (supercritical or ultra-supercritical technologies).

Power sector technologies


Only two technologies, solar PV and bioenergy, are on track with the SDS, and four are well off track: coal-fired power, geothermal, ocean and CCUS. While renewables are making progress, much more needs to be done to decarbonise the power sector to get aligned with the SDS.


Renewable power

In 2018, renewable electricity generation rose 7%, with wind and solar PV technologies together accounting for 60% of this increase. Although the share of renewables in global electricity generation reached 26% in 2018, renewable power as a whole still needs to expand significantly to meet the SDS share of half of generation by 2030. This requires the rate of annual capacity additions to accelerate; however, renewable capacity growth stalled in 2018 for the first time since 2001.

Share of renewables in power generation

To align with the SDS, the share of renewables should reach 50% by 2030.

	Low carbon 	Renewables
2000	35.35182448	18.36559433
2001	35.09151663	17.90618585
2002	34.51305531	17.8274563
2003	33.32882749	17.41873988
2004	33.64636133	17.84474488
2005	33.3162649	18.00412933
2006	33.02102044	18.14984674
2007	31.78039063	17.89809635
2008	32.28277547	18.58346722
2009	32.93931351	19.36389966
2010	32.6194428	19.55360993
2011	31.80048507	19.90599511
2012	31.97261555	20.87056328
2013	32.52627338	21.66194752
2014	33.25410756	22.34519841
2015	33.66798662	22.80904278
2016	34.51647783	23.83251351
2017	35.00085233	24.44460533
2018	35.70686333	25.23796509
2025	49.3756944	37.82935019
2030	62.71312351	48.62234959
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Nuclear power

In 2018, 11.2 GW of additional nuclear capacity were connected to the grid, the largest increase since 1989. New projects were launched representing over 6 GW, and refurbishment projects are under way in many countries to ensure long-term operation of the existing fleet. Nevertheless, more efforts in terms of policies, financing and cost reductions are needed to maintain existing capacity and bring new reactors online. Under current trends, nuclear capacity in 2030 would amount to 497 GW, compared with 542 GW under the SDS. At least a doubling of the annual rate of capacity additions is therefore required.

This section was authored by the Nuclear Energy Agency, Division of Nuclear Technology Development and Economics (NTE)

Current and future nuclear capacity

Efforts are needed to double planned nuclear capacity additions to meet the SDS.

	Current fleet with 60-year operating life	Without additional construction	With planned construction	SDS
2000	384.00			
2001	387.00			
2002	391.00			
2003	392.00			
2004	397.00			
2005	398.00			
2006	397.00			
2007	399.00			
2008	399.00			
2009	399.00			
2010	401.00			
2011	394.00			
2012	396.00			
2013	394			
2014	398			
2015	404			
2016	413			
2017	419			
2018	424			
2019	436			
2020	443			
2021	441			
2022	439	439		
2023		437		
2024		434		
2025		429	437	467
2026		427		
2027		427		
2028		426		
2029		423		
2030		421	497	542
2031		418		
2032		413		
2033		406		
2034		395		
2035		387		
2036		376		
2037		370		
2038		358		
2039		352		
2040		337	518	678
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Natural gas-fired power

Gas-fired power generation increased 4% in 2018, led by strong generation growth in the United States and China. At around 6 100 TWh, gas accounts for 23% of overall power generation. In the SDS, gas use as a flexible transition fuel increases until the late 2020s, displacing unabated coal, but gas without CCUS declines steadily thereafter. This indicator remains yellow as we don’t yet see the kind of commitments globally for CCUS with natural gas that would provide confidence of achieving an SDS trajectory by 2030.

Evolution of gas-fired power generation in the SDS

Gas-based generation grows until the late 2020s as coal declines and low-carbon sources take off.

	Gas	Low-carbon	Coal
2000	2753	5459	6005
2001	2907	5461	6024
2002	3109	5581	6309
2003	3270	5586	6722
2004	3513	5899	6950
2005	3702	6096	7335
2006	3912	6277	7746
2007	4220	6306	8207
2008	4376	6525	8258
2009	4423	6634	8099
2010	4822	7017	8664
2011	4883	7067	9142
2012	5086	7262	9180
2013	5027	7611	9633
2014	5159	7940	9698
2015	5519	8166	9532
2016	5781	8638	9575
2017	5855	9026	9858
2025	6810	14251	7193
2030	6830	19070	4847
2035	6255	24422	3050
2040	5358	29577	1982
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Coal-fired power

Coal power generation increased 3% in 2018 (similar to the 2017 increase), and for the first time crossed the 10 000 TWh mark. Coal remains firmly in place as the largest source of power at 38% of overall generation. Growth was mainly in Asia, particularly in China and India. That said, investment in coal-fired power declined by nearly 3% to the lowest level since 2004, and final investment decisions for new plants continue to decline. Coal-fired generation without CCUS needs to decrease 5.8% per year to 2030 to be in line with the SDS.

Share of coal-fired power generation in the SDS

Alignment with the SDS will require a 5.8% annual decrease in non-CCUS coal-fired generation.

	Coal without CCUS	Non-fossil electricity
2000	38.855	35.438
2001	38.673	35.180
2002	38.981	34.604
2003	40.082	33.469
2004	39.552	33.759
2005	39.984	33.447
2006	40.691	33.136
2007	41.312	31.879
2008	40.828	32.350
2009	40.234	32.970
2010	40.330	32.742
2011	41.232	31.923
2012	40.461	32.073
2013	41.256	32.557
2014	40.668	33.298
2015	39.326	33.688
2016	38.424	34.663
2017	38.389	35.150
2025	24.925	49.381
2030	15.556	61.200
2040	5.339	79.692
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CCUS in power

With only two large-scale CCUS power projects in operation at the end of 2018 and a combined capture capacity of 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) per year, CCUS in power remains well off track to reach the 2030 SDS level of 350 MtCO2 per year. As CCUS applied to power is at an early stage of commercialisation, securing investments will require complementary and targeted policy measures such as tax credits or grant funding. Support for innovation needs to target cost reductions and broaden the portfolio of CCUS technologies.

Large-scale CO2 capture projects in power generation

CCUS in power generation is off track to reach SDS capture levels of 350 MtCO2 per year by 2030.

	SDS	Existing capacity	Development pipeline
2000		0	
2001		0	
2002		0	
2003		0	
2004		0	
2005		0	
2006		0	
2007		0	
2008		0	
2009		0	
2010		0	
2011		0	
2012		0	
2013		0	
2014		1	
2015		1	
2016		1	
2017		2.4	
2018		2.4	
2019		2.4	
2020		2.4	
2021		2.4	
2022		2.4	
2023		2.4	2.4
2024			3
2025			11
2030	350		
2040	1488		
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