A record 260 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity was added globally last year, beating the previous best by almost half.
Despite the economic slowdown arising from Covid-19, research by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed additions beat earlier estimates as countries escalated their efforts to move away from reliance on hydrocarbons.
In comparison, the green energy sector added 176 GW of generating capacity globally in 2019 and 179 GW in 2018.
In response to the figures, IRENA director-general, Francesco La Camera hailed the start of a “decade of renewables”.
The annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 show more than 80 per cent of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, with solar and wind accounting for 91 per cent of that.
Green energy’s rising share was partly down to the decommissioning of fossil fuel power generation in Europe, North America and, for the first time across Eurasia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russian Federation and Turkey).
Total fossil fuel additions fell to 60 GW in 2020 from 64 GW in 2019, highlighting a “continued downward trend of fossil fuel expansion”.
At the end of 2020, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 2 799 GW, with hydropower still accounting for the largest share (1 211 GW), although solar and wind are “catching up fast”.
China and the United States were the two largest growth markets, adding 136 GW and 29 GW of renewables respectively.
Africa continued to expand steadily with an increase of 2.6 GW, slightly more than in 2019, while Oceania remained the fastest growing region (+18.4%), although its share of global capacity is small and almost all expansion occurred in Australia.
Mr La Camera, said: “These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean and just future.
“The great reset offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it.
“Despite the difficult period, as we predicted, 2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables. Costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear.”
He added: “This trend is unstoppable, but as the review of our World Energy Transition Outlook highlights, there is a huge amount to be done. Our 1.5 degree outlook shows significant planned energy investments must be redirected to support the transition if we are to achieve 2050 goals. In this critical decade of action, the international community must look to this trend as a source of inspiration to go further. ”