Global Energy Crisis Triggered Renewables Momentum—Let's Keep It Going

Renewables will be the world’s biggest source of electricity generation by 2025, says the IEA.

In this aerial view, wind turbines spin at a wind park as water vapour rises from cooling towers of the Kraftwerk Lippendorf coal-fired power station on September 21, 2022 near Weissenfels, Germany.

Sean Gallup / Staff / Getty Images

Back in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we witnessed in some European circles a resurgence of calls for fracking fossil fuel exploration—with Liz Truss’ brief tenure as the U.K. Prime Minister leading to an equally brief moment when fracking seemed likely to get the green light once more. It seems, however, that cooler heads are mostly now prevailing.

Germans are competing with each other to save energy. Current U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has banned fracking once again. And there appears to be a lot more recognition that the path to energy independence lies not in greater reliance on polluting commodity fuels, but rather in doubling down on efficiency, sufficiency, and renewables. 

Indeed, if the IEA’s Renewables 2022 Report is to be believed, the invasion of Ukraine may eventually be looked back on as an inflection point for our transition away from fossil fuels—with major policy initiatives across the U.S., China, and Europe leading to faster deployment of renewables. And, in the case of Europe at least, a significant reduction in demand for natural gas, oil, and coal.

To underscore how quickly this is all happening, the forecast growth of renewables is 30% higher than predictions from just one year ago. As a result of this step change, the report says, we should see renewables overtake coal as the world’s leading source of power by 2025. 

Here’s how the IEA’s Executive Director Fatih Birol describes the global significance: 

“Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalise on their energy security benefits. The world is set to add as much renewable power in the next 5 years as it did in the previous 20 years.This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system. Renewables’ continued acceleration is critical to help keep the door open to limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.”

None of this is inevitable, of course. And more always needs to be done. While Europe’s gas storage facilities are currently pretty full—allaying immediate fears of Russian leverage over energy demand—we’re also hearing news from The Guardian that Germans haven’t quite achieved the government’s desired 20% cuts in consumption, leading to concerns that next winter may be harder than this one. The IEA itself says that a further 100 billion euros of clean energy investments are needed to help Europe resist Russian energy blackmail in 2023.

And while Britain’s conservative government has finally reversed its ridiculous blanket ban on onshore wind and solar—a policy move that was clearly designed to placate the climate-skeptic wing of the party—it has also decided to grant approval to a controversial new coal mine. 

They giveth and they taketh away, I guess. 

But the broad point still stands. We are deep in the midst of an energy transition that the laws of physics dictate will have to get us to net zero emissions within the next few decades. Nobody is arguing that we can stop all fossil fuel use tomorrow. But there does appear to be a growing recognition that pitting the goal of energy security against climate security is a disastrous false choice. 

More importantly, this is a powerful, teachable moment about the pace at which we can change—if we choose to. Because let’s face it: Even the new, 30% higher growth predictions for renewables still represent a pace that doesn’t really match the depth of the crisis we face. So while I am delighted to see that this shift is happening, I am also going to continue pushing for more. 

We’ve just seen that things can change fast. Let’s change them faster. 

View Article Sources
  1. "Renewables 2022." The International Energy Agency.

  2. "How the European Union Can Avoid Natural Gas Shortages in 2023." The International Energy Agency.