COP28 Promises: Triple Renewable Energy Capacity (Part 1)

One of the big agreements from COP28 was the pledge to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. Let's bite off two pieces: details of the promise and where we're headed if nothing changes. Later, we'll look at what we must believe will happen to hit the targets, and leading indicators. Let's dive in. 

Unpack the promise

The pledge is to triple the world's installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW by 2030. There were 124 signatories. One thing to call out is China didn't sign this pledge. More on that in a minute.  

First, let's pin down what the promise means. 

Shifting to renewable energy has two parts. First, we need to create the energy. Then, we need to use it.

This promise is about making renewable energy. It's the sheer capability of generating it. It's like measuring the total water available in a dam, rather than the amount of water that ends up flowing through a hose. 

Energy capacity is measured in gigawatts (GW), so we have a clear metric and target: make 11,000 GW from renewable sources in a single year (2030).

Why is the target to triple capacity? It's part of the IEA's Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050. The IEA says its modelling consistently shows this is 'the single most important lever' to reduce CO2 emissions.

If nothing changes

We have everything we need to track this promise. 

  • Target: 11,000 GW from renewables annually
  • Baseline: in 2022, the world generated 3382 GW
  • What we need to do: increase capacity by 1015 GW each year

Last year, the world added 510 GW to its generation capacity. That was a step change. The IEA forecasts that will grow. 

But even at that impressive rate, the world will still fall short of the pledge.

The chart below shows the world's trajectory if nothing changes (i.e. we continue at the 2023 rate); the IEA forecast (based on existing policies and market conditions); and the trajectory needed to hit the target.

(Sources: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA); IEA).

What about China?

China didn't sign the pledge. Yet, it is the world's renewable energy superpower. 

In 2023, China generated an additional 301 GW of energy from renewables. That's 59% of the additional renewable energy generated globally. 

If China continues at that pace, it will exceed the COP28 target despite not committing to it.

The chart below shows China's if-nothing-changes trend finishing higher than tripling capacity. (Sources: IRENA; S&P Global).

Meanwhile, without China, the rest of the world is further off track than the first chart above indicates.


If China is doing so well, why didn't it sign the pledge? 

Because the tripling capacity promise was bundled with a broader agreement to increase energy efficiency overall, which means driving down fossil fuel-use.

We'll talk about this other promise (doubling energy efficiency by 2030) in a future briefing. 

What about Australia?

When governments sign up to a target with a clear goal and metric, you'd think the exact figures would be easy to find. 

They're not. 

Australia has signed the pledge. But I haven't found any place where the government explicitly says we'll generate X GW from renewable sources by 2030. (Please correct me if I'm wrong).

I can say: 

  • The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says Australia's renewable energy generation capacity in 2022 was 49 GW.
  • So, if we intend to fulfil the pledge to triple capacity, our 2030 target should be 147 GW. 

The Clean Energy Council reports additional capacity each year. In 2023, that was 5.9GW.

If we extend that high-water mark of additional capacity to 2030, here is Australia's trajectory. (Sources: IRENA; Clean Energy Council).

Australia's other target

Australia's other and better-known renewables target is by 2030, 82% of our electricity will come from renewables. 

This refers to the proportion of energy generated and consumed in our National Electricity Market.

Remember that shifting to renewable energy has two parts: make it, then use it. The 82% target is about the second step.

This is a real-world target. It's the amount of renewable energy we actually use. 

The tripling capacity target is an ideal-world target. It's the renewable energy we could use if all other conditions are optimal. 

Watching Australia's progress injecting renewable fuels into the grid produces this dramatic chart. (Source: OpenNEM).

Last year, the proportion of electricity from renewables jumped by 3.7%. But even at that cracking pace, Australia will fall short in 2030. (Source: OpenNEM).

Of course, things will change. 

But they won't necessarily change for the better.

Last year was spectacular for renewables. The world needs to not only sustain that rate of change, but improve it. 

In future briefings, we'll look at the next questions: 

  • What we must believe: What needs to happen for us to hit the targets?
  • Leading indicators: how are the pipelines of progress tracking?

By the way

This was Issue #2 in the COP28 Promises series. If you want to read the first issue (Oil and Gas decarbonisation), you can do that here

What we're reading

Weighing up nuclear power in Australia (SMH and The Age)

Former Chief Scientist Alan Finkel writes about the benefits and barriers of nuclear power in Australia, 'in the hope [key facts] are remembered in the discussions ahead'. He concludes 'it is worth considering nuclear power as a long-term option' but in the short term, 'there is no alternative other than solar and wind power, supported by battery storage and gas-fired electricity generation.'

AI is taking water from the desert (The Atlantic)

A journalist toured a Microsoft data centre campus in the Arizona desert on a 36°C day. There were two buildings and a third under construction. Seven more are to come. They will be packed with servers powering ChatGPT. The machines must stay below a certain temperature. Microsoft will absorb the excess heat with steady air flow and 50 million gallons of evaporated drinking water. 'The American Southwest has become the site of a collision between two civilisation-defining trends. In this desert heat, the explosive growth of generative AI is pitched against a changing climate's treacherous extremes.'

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