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Renewable energy

Over the past five years or so, the rapid growth in renewable energy, together with an edging down in the coal share, has led to a more sustained improvement in the carbon intensity of the power sector, such that the impact of increasing power demand on carbon emissions has been partially offset
Wind turbines in field
“So the message from 2018 is strong growth in renewables are essential to this decarbonisation process, but are unlikely to be sufficient. And a range of other fuels and technologies are likely to be required, including widespread coal-to-gas switching, and also an increasing use of carbon capture use and storage – CCUS.”

Spencer Dale, group chief economist

Growth in power generation – contributions by region (annual change, %)
Global coal consumption (percentage contributions to annual growth)
Growth in power generation – contributions by fuel (annual change, %)
Global coal production (percentage contributions to annual growth)

Renewables in this review

Hydroelectricity, wind and wave power, solar and geothermal energy and combustible renewables and renewable waste (landfill gas, waste incineration, solid biomass and liquid biofuels) are the constituents of renewable energy.


 The definition of primary energy in the Statistical Review confines itself to renewable fuels (commercial renewables) used for power generation or transport fuels. It excludes renewable sources of heat. Consumption of hydroelectricity has been reported in the Statistical Review for many years, and biofuels have been included in oil consumption. The Review includes additional tables on the consumption of renewable sources of electricity other than hydroelectricity and on the production of biofuels.


Electricity generation from renewables

The coverage and quality of data relating to non-hydro renewable power is improving steadily, especially where countries have adopted policy targets for renewables. It is now possible to provide a reasonable estimate for total power generated from renewable sources. This is based as far as possible on primary national sources, supplemented as necessary by data from secondary sources, such as Eurostat, the US Energy Information Administration, and the International Energy Agency. The Statistical Review database stretches back to 1965, but any data before 1990 should be treated with caution due to major breaks in data series. (Fortunately, the numbers before 1990 are generally very small, and too small to affect primary energy aggregates).

The Statistical Review collects data on power generated in TWh and converts this to Mtoe on the same basis as hydroelectricity and nuclear power (i.e. on the basis of thermal equivalency assuming 38% conversion efficiency in a thermal power station).

Renewable electricity generation (excluding hydro) is estimated to account for 9.3% of global electricity generation in 2018. This year, renewables contributed with around a third of the of the growth in global power generation in 2017.

In terms of installed capacity, solar and wind energy are growing and cumulative installed capacity at a global level reached 489 and 564 GW in 2018, respectively. However, investment in renewable energy did not increased for the first time and it plateaued around 145 GW. 

At the individual country level these sources are already playing an important role in some countries. As in previous years, Denmark leads, with 69% of power coming from renewables. Among the larger EU economies, the renewables share in power is 32% in Germany and the UK.

The rapid growth of renewable power generation continued in 2018, with an increase of 14%. In volume terms, the largest increase was in China, accounting by almost 50% of the total increase at a global level. The Statistical Review provides further information in the form of consumption tables for solar, wind, and other renewables, and capacity tables for wind, solar and geothermal power.


Renewable power

Renewable power consumption grew by 14% in 2018, providing 9% of the world’s electricity.


The rapid growth of non-hydro renewable power generation continued in 2018. Global growth was 14%, the 15th successive year of double-digit growth. Renewables accounted for around a third of the growth in global power generation and contributed for one fifth of world primary energy growth.


The OECD remains the main source of renewable power generation (59% of world total) in 2018. Nevertheless, non-OECD growth is larger and accounts for almost 2/3 of the total increase in renewable energy.

The share of renewable power in global power generation reached nearly 8.4% in 2017, almost doubling in five years from 4.6% in 2012. Renewables accounted for 12% of OECD power generation in 2017, compared to 6% in the non-OECD. While the aggregate shares remain low, for some individual countries renewables now contribute a significant share of power. Countries where renewables contribute more than 20% of the power generated include: Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and New Zealand.

Renewables – consumption by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)
Other renewables – consumption by region
Renewables generation by source (terawatt-hours)

Other renewables – share of power generation by region

Geothermal capacity

Geothermal power generation is a well-established and relatively mature form of commercial renewable energy. One of its important characteristics is a high load factor, which means that each MW of capacity produces significantly more electricity during a year than a MW of wind or solar capacity.

Geothermal capacity grew by 4.3% (600 MW) in 2017, to reach 14.3 GW. The largest additions to capacity were in Turkey (243 MW) and Indonesia (220 MW). The US has the largest geothermal capacity with 3.7 GW (26% of the world total), followed by the Philippines (1.9 GW), Indonesia (1.9 GW) and New Zealand (1 GW).

Geothermal power runs at a much higher load factor than wind or solar (its energy source is continuous rather than intermittent), so geothermal produces significantly more electricity per MW of capacity. However the geological conditions required for geothermal power mean that development has been concentrated in a relatively small number of countries.

Geothermal power generation grew by 3.1% in 2017. Overall the geothermal share of global power generation remains very small (0.3%), but in certain countries it plays a significant role, e.g. Kenya (over 40% of power), Iceland (over 25%), and New Zealand (18%).

Solar energy

Solar is scaling up rapidly, growing 29% in 2018.

New installations totaling 96 GW in 2018, a similar number that in 2017 and took global solar PV power generating capacity to nearly 500 GW by year-end.

The largest increments in 2018 were recorded in China (44 GW), but this represents a 17% decrease compared to the 2017-increment. Still, China accounted for almost 50% of the total growth in global solar capacity. The US, the EU and India investment around 8 GW each.

Despite the stagnation in solar investment, solar power generation enjoyed another year of very rapid growth in 2018, with a 29% increase. Its overall share of global power generation remains low (2.2%), but that share has more doubled in just three years. Solar already has a noticeable impact in terms of power generation growth, contributing around 14% of the growth of global power.

Solar PV generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)
Solar PV generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)

Wind energy

Wind power provides 4.8% of global power.

Wind power generating capacity grew by 10% in 2018, with capacity reaching 564 GW. The level of new investment in 2018 was similar to those of 2016 and 2017.

China leads the world in terms of installed wind capacity (185 GW), and in 2017 China recorded the largest addition of new wind capacity (20 GW), followed by the EU (10 GW), and the US (7 GW).

Wind power generation grew by 13% to reach 1270 TWh, or 4.8% of total world electricity generation. China was the largest wind power producer last year, growing by 24% and contributing 50% of global growth in wind power.

Wind has become an important contributor to European electricity generation. In Denmark wind power provided more than 46% of power generation in 2018: and wind power now provides 15% or more of power generated in Ireland, Lithuania, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the UK. Wind has a much smaller share in the US, where it contributed just 6% of power generation; and in China, where wind provided 5% of power.

Installed wind generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)
Installed wind generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)

Biofuels production

Biofuels production growth averaged 9.7% in 2018, the highest growth since 2010 and slightly above the 10-year average. Brazil (3.1 mtoe) and Indonesia (2.2 mtoe) together accounted for almost two thirds of global growth (8.5 mtoe).


By fuel, Ethanol production in 2018 totalled 60.4 mtoe with North America accounting for 56%. Biodiesel production in 2018 amounted to 34.9 mtoe with Europe representing 37%.

World biofuels production by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)
World biofuels production by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)
World biofuels production by type (million tonnes oil equivalent)
World biofuels production by type (million tonnes oil equivalent)
Includes data from F.O. Lichts; Strategie grains; US Energy Information Administration (March 2018).