Australia's shift to wind and solar energy between 2019 and 2021 was greater than anywhere in the world except the Netherlands, a new report has found.
Wind and solar's share of Australia's electricity market rose from 13 per cent to 22 per cent, the highest of any non-European country except Uruguay, according to the report.
Authors of the Global Electricity Review say the Australian transformation happened despite, not because of, the federal government.
David Jones, program lead at energy think tank Ember, said Australia's demand for renewable energy had been driven from the bottom up.
"This is very different from many countries, where national governments lead the charge," he said.
"It's very refreshing to see so many people embracing homegrown solar, even as the national government continues to push for more oil and gas."
The report covered electricity generation for 209 countries from 2000 to 2020. For 2021, data was added from 75 countries, which together represented 93 per cent of global demand.
The report found wind and solar were the fastest-growing sources of electricity, reaching 10 per cent of global electricity in 2021, double when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.
All five of the world's largest economies are among the 50 countries that now generate more than 10 per cent of their electricity from wind and solar.
Seven new countries passed the landmark in 2021: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.
The fastest transformation happened in the Netherlands, Australia and Vietnam, the report found, with 10 per cent of electricity demand switching from fossil fuels to wind and solar in two years.
Andrew Blakers, director of the Australian National University's Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, said Australia's surging demand had not been driven by any government, but instead by economics.
"Hands down, solar and wind have won the energy race because they're cheaper and they keep getting cheaper," Professor Blakers said.
"Coal power stations and gas power stations cannot compete. And that's the reason why solar and wind are moving ahead quickly."
Professor Blakers said Australia was moving quite quickly towards a completely solar and wind dominated electricity system.
He said renewable energy, mostly solar and wind with a small contribution from hydro, was now in the range of the low 30 per cent and heading for 50 per cent.
"By 2030, about 80 or 90 per cent of all electricity will be solar and wind," Professor Blakers said.
Ember data found global electricity demand had rebounded after the pandemic to the largest ever annual increase in 2021.
Despite record growth in wind and solar, they met just 29 per cent of the global increase in electricity demand in 2021, the report found, with the rest met by fossil fuels.
As a result, coal power saw the fastest growth since at least 1985, rising nine per cent to an all-time high.
The record rise in coal was not matched by global gas generation, which increased by only 1 per cent in 2021, according to the report.
Ember found the increase in fossil fuels pushed global power sector CO2 emissions to an all-time high, beating the previous record in 2018 by three per cent.
Professor Blakers said the world needed to move faster in its transition away from fossil fuels and the tools were there for that to happen.
"Take the example of India which uses something like a 10th of the electricity per person of Australia.
"It is not going to be satisfied with that because as it industrialises and becomes more affluent it's people are going to want much more electricity.
"There's no reason at all why that new electricity can't be from solar and wind, of which India has plenty, rather than flogging the dead coal horse."
Professor Blakers said India was in the process of a dramatic switch away from future coal and Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world in terms of population, made that switch in 2021.
He said Australia had thoroughly made that switch, with 99 per cent of all new generation capacity solar and wind.
"The coal power stations are falling over one after another and just a little bit of gas is now used during peak periods," Professor Blakers said.
"Gas is not used for bulk generation, it's just too expensive."
Professor said the federal government's gas-lead recovery was not based on sound economic principles.
"I think it's a laughing-gas lead recovery," he said.
"The amount of gas generation in the national electricity market in Australia fell from about 10 per cent to five per cent over the last four years, and continues to fall.
"Within a few years, it'll be down in the one and 2 per cent range, simply because it can't compete on price against wind."
The report found 10 countries generated more than a quarter of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, led by Denmark at 52 per cent.
Ember's Mr Jones said wind and solar had arrived, with clean sources generating 38 per cent of the world's electricity in 2021, more than coal, which was 36 per cent.
"The process that will reshape the existing energy system has begun," he said.
"This decade they need to be deployed at lightning speed to reverse global emissions increases and tackle climate change."
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