This 2021 report is the 16th edition of the Renewables Global Status Report (GSR), which has been produced annually since 2005 (with the exception of 2008). Readers are directed to the previous GSR editions for historical details.
Most 2020 data for national and global capacity, output, growth and investment provided in this report are preliminary. Where necessary, information and data that are conflicting, partial or older are reconciled by using reasoned expert judgment. Endnotes provide additional details, including references, supporting information and assumptions where relevant.
Each edition draws from thousands of published and unpublished references, including: official government sources; reports from international organisations and industry associations; input from the GSR community via hundreds of questionnaires submitted by country, regional and technology contributors as well as feedback from several rounds of formal and informal reviews; additional personal communications with scores of international experts; and a variety of electronic newsletters, news media and other sources.
Much of the data found in the GSR is built from the ground up by the authors with the aid of these resources. This often involves extrapolation of older data, based on recent changes in key countries within a sector or based on recent growth rates and global trends. Other data, often very specific and narrow in scope, come more-or-less prepared from third parties. The GSR attempts to synthesise these data points into a collective whole for the focus year.
The GSR endeavours to provide the best data available in each successive edition; as such, data should not be compared with previous versions of this report to ascertain year-by-year changes.
Note on Establishing Renewable Energy Shares of Total Final Energy Consumption (TFEC)
Assumptions Related to Renewable Electricity Shares of TFEC
When estimating electricity consumption from renewable sources, the GSR must make certain assumptions about how much of the estimated gross output from renewable electricity generating resources actually reaches energy consumers, as part of total final energy consumption.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Statistics and Balances reports electricity output by individual technology. However, it does not report electricity consumption by technology – only total consumption of electricity.
The difference between gross output and final consumption is determined by:
Transmission and distribution losses that occur as electricity finds its way to consumers.
Industry’s own-use. The common method is to assume that the proportion of consumption by technology is equal to the proportion of output by technology. This is problematic because logic dictates that industry’s own-use cannot be proportionally the same for every generating technology. Further, industry’s own-use must be somewhat lower for some renewable generating technologies (particularly non-thermal renewables such as hydropower, solar PV and wind power) than is the case for fossil fuel and nuclear power technologies. Such thermal power plants consume significant amounts of electricity to meet their own internal energy requirements (see above).
Therefore, the GSR has opted to apply differentiated “industry own-use” by generating technology. This differentiation is based on explicit technology-specific own-use (such as pumping at hydropower facilities) as well as on the apportioning of various categories of own-use by technology as deemed appropriate. For example, industry own-use of electricity at coal mines and oil refineries is attributed to fossil fuel generation.
Differentiated own-uses by technology, combined with global average losses, are as follows: solar PV, ocean energy and wind power (8.2%); hydropower (10.1%); concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) (14.2%); and bio-power (15.2%). For comparison, the undifferentiated (universal) combined losses and industry own-use would be 16.7% of gross generation. Estimated technology-specific industry own-use of electricity from renewable sources is based on data for 2018 from IEA, World Energy Balances, 2020 edition (Paris: 2020).
Transmission and distribution losses. Such losses may differ (on average) by generating technology. For example, hydropower plants often are located far from load centres, incurring higher than average transmission losses, whereas some solar PV generation may occur near to (or at) the point of consumption, incurring little (or zero) transmission losses. However, specific information by technology on a global scale is not available.
Therefore, the GSR has opted to apply a global average for transmission and distribution losses. Global average electricity losses are based on data for 2018 from IEA, World Energy Balances, 2020 edition (Paris: 2020).
Notes on Renewable Energy in Total Final Energy Consumption, by Energy Use
GSR 2021 presents an illustration of the share of renewable energy in total final energy consumption (TFEC) by sector in 2018. (→ See Figure 4 in Global Overview chapter.) The share of TFEC consumed in each sector is provided as follows: thermal (51%), transport (32%) and electricity (17%). There are three important points about this figure and about how the GSR treats end-use TFEC in general:
1. Definition of Heating and Cooling and Thermal Applications
In the GSR, the term “heating and cooling” refers to applications of thermal energy including space and water heating, space cooling, refrigeration, drying and industrial process heat, as well as any use of energy other than electricity that is used for motive power in any application other than transport. In other words, thermal demand refers to all end-uses of energy that cannot be classified as electricity demand or transport.
2. Sectoral Shares of TFEC
In Figure 4, each sectoral share of TFEC portrays the energy demand for all end-uses within the sector. The shares of TFEC allocated to thermal and to transport also account for the electricity consumed in these sectors – that is, electricity for space heating and space cooling, industrial process heat, etc., and electricity for transport. These amounts have been reallocated from final demand in the electricity sector. Therefore, the share of TFEC allocated to the electricity sector comprises all final end-uses of electricity that are not used for heating, cooling or transport. This is a methodological change from GSR 2018 that was intended to strengthen the accuracy of the representation. In total, the final energy consumption of all electrical energy accounted for 25.6% of TFEC in 2018.
3. Shares of Non-renewable Electricity
Figure 3 illustrates the share of non-renewable electricity in thermal and in transport to emphasise that electricity demand is being allocated to each sector. The share of non-renewable electricity is not critical to the figure content, so the percentage value of non-renewable electricity in each sector is not explicitly shown, but it is included in this note. In 2018, all electricity for heating and cooling met 7.8% of final energy demand in the sector (2.1% renewable and 5.7% non-renewable electricity). All electricity for transport met 1.1% of final energy demand in the sector (0.3% renewable and 0.8% non-renewable electricity).
Notes on Renewable Energy Capacities and Energy Output
A number of issues arise when counting renewable energy capacities and energy output. Some of these are discussed below:
1. Capacity versus Energy Data
The GSR aims to give accurate estimates of capacity additions and totals, as well as of electricity, heat and transport fuel production in the focus year. These measures are subject to some uncertainty, which varies by technology. The Market and Industry chapter includes estimates for energy produced where possible, but it focuses mainly on power or heat capacity data. This is because capacity data generally can be estimated with a greater degree of confidence than generation data. Official heat and electricity generation data often are not available for the target year within the production time frame of the GSR.
2. Constructed Capacity versus Connected Capacity and Operational Capacity
Over a number of years in the past decade, the solar PV and wind power markets saw increasing amounts of capacity that was connected to the grid but not yet deemed officially operational, or constructed capacity that was not connected to the grid by year’s end. Therefore, since the 2012 edition the GSR has aimed to count only capacity additions that were grid-connected or that otherwise went into service (e.g., capacity intended for off-grid use) during the previous calendar (focus) year. However, it appears that this phenomenon is no longer an issue, with the exception of wind power installations in China, where it was particularly evident over the period 2009-2019. For details on the situation in China and on the reasoning for capacity data used in this GSR, See endnote 24 in the Wind Power section of the Market and Industry chapter.
3. Retirements and Replacements
Data on capacity retirements and replacements (re-powering) are incomplete for many technologies, although data on several technologies do attempt to account for these directly. It is not uncommon for reported new capacity installations to exceed the implied net increase in cumulative capacity; in some instances, this is explained by revisions to data on installed capacity, while in others it is due to capacity retirements and replacements. Where data are available, they are provided in the text or relevant endnotes.
4. Bioenergy Data
Given existing complexities and constraints, the GSR strives to provide the best and latest data available regarding bioenergy developments. The reporting of biomass-fired combined heat and power (CHP) systems varies among countries; this adds to the challenges experienced when assessing total heat and electricity capacities and total bioenergy outputs.
Wherever possible, the bio-power data presented include capacity and generation from both electricity-only and CHP systems using solid biomass, landfill gas, biogas and liquid biofuels. Electricity generation and capacity numbers are based on national data for the focus year in the major producing countries and on forecast data for remaining countries for the focus year from the IEA.
The methodology is similar for biofuels production data, with data for most countries (not major producers) from the IEA; however, data for hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) are estimated based on production statistics for the (relatively few) major producers. Bio-heat data are based on an extrapolation of the latest data available from the IEA based on recent growth trends. (→ See Bioenergy section in Market and Industry chapter.)
5. Hydropower Data and Treatment of Pumped Storage
Starting with the 2012 edition, the GSR has made an effort to report hydropower generating capacity without including pure pumped storage capacity (the capacity used solely for shifting water between reservoirs for storage purposes). The distinction is made because pumped storage is not an energy source but rather a means of energy storage. It involves conversion losses and can be fed by all forms of electricity, renewable and non-renewable.
Some conventional hydropower facilities do have pumping capability that is not separate from, or additional to, their normal generating capability. These facilities are referred to as “mixed” plants and are included, to the extent possible, with conventional hydropower data. It is the aim of the GSR to distinguish and separate only the pure (or incremental) pumped storage component.
Where the GSR presents data for renewable power capacity not including hydropower, the distinction is made because hydropower remains the largest single component by far of renewable power capacity, and thus can mask developments in other renewable energy technologies if included. Investments and jobs data separate out large-scale hydropower where original sources use different methodologies for tracking or estimating values. Footnotes and endnotes provide additional details.
6. Solar PV Capacity Datai
The capacity of a solar PV panel is rated according to direct current (DC) output, which in most cases must be converted by inverters to alternating current (AC) to be compatible with end-use electricity supply. No single equation is possible for calculating solar PV data in AC because conversion depends on many factors, including the inverters used, shading, dust build-up, line losses and temperature effects on conversion efficiency. The difference between DC and AC power can range from as little as 5% (conversion losses or inverter set at the DC level) to as much as 40% (due to grid regulations limiting output or to the evolution of utility-scale systems), and most utility-scale plants built in 2019 have ratios in the range of 1.1 to 1.6ii.
The GSR attempts to report all solar PV capacity data on the basis of DC output (where data are known to be provided in AC, this is specified) for consistency across countries. Some countries (for example, Canada, Chile, India, Japan, Malaysia, Spain, Sweden and the United States) report official capacity data on the basis of output in AC; these capacity data were converted to DC output by data providers (see relevant endnotes) for the sake of consistency. Global renewable power capacity totals in this report include solar PV data in DC; as with all statistics in this report, they should be considered as indicative of global capacity and trends rather than as exact statistics.
7. Concentrating Solar Thermal Power (CSP) Data
Global CSP data are based on commercial facilities only. Demonstration or pilot facilities and facilities of 5 MW or less are excluded. Discrepancies between REN21 data and other reference sources are due primarily to differences in categorisation and thresholds for inclusion of specific CSP facilities in overall global totals. The GSR aims to report net CSP capacities for specific CSP plants that are included. In certain cases, it may not be possible to verify if the reported capacity of a given CSP plant is net or gross capacity. In these cases net capacity is assumed.
8. Solar Thermal Heat Data
Starting with GSR 2014, the GSR includes all solar thermal collectors that use water as the heat transfer medium (or heat carrier) in global capacity data and the ranking of top countries. Previous GSRs focused primarily on glazed water collectors (both flat plate and evacuated tube); the GSR now also includes unglazed water collectors, which are used predominantly for swimming pool heating. Since the GSR 2018, data for concentrating collectors are available. These include new installations overall as well as in key markets and total in operation by year’s end. The market for solar air collectors (solar thermal collectors that use air as the heat carrier) and hybrid or PV-thermal technologies (elements that produce both electricity and heat) is small and the data rather uncertain. All three collector types – air, concentrating and hybrid collectors – are included where specified.
Revised gross additions for 2019 included in this GSR (26.1 GWth) are significantly lower than those published in GSR 2020 (31.3 GWth) for two reasons: First, the Chinese Solar Thermal Industry Federation (CSTIF) adjusted downwards its number for China’s new additions in 2019, from 22.75 GWth (a preliminary figure, available as of early 2020) to 20 GWth. Second, data for new additions in China are based on produced collector area, rather than on annual installations in China; as a result, export volumes have been included in China’s national statistics for 2020 and earlier years. In past editions of the GSR, this has resulted in a double counting of some collector area because the majority of coated vacuum tubes installed worldwide are purchased from China. For more details, see endnotes 1 and 5 in the Solar Thermal Heating section of the Market and Industry chapter.
Editorial content of this report closed by 31 May 2021 for technology data, and by 15 May 2021 or earlier for other content.
Growth rates in the GSR are calculated as compound annual growth rates (CAGR) rather than as an average of annual growth rates.
All exchange rates in this report are as of 31 December 2020 and are calculated using the OANDA currency converter (http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter).
Corporate domicile, where noted, is determined by the location of headquarters.
iSee Solar PV section of the Market and Industry chapter for sources on capacity data.i
iiSee IEA PVPS, Trends in Photovoltaic Applications 2019, p. 9, and IEA PVPS, Snapshot of Global PV Markets 2020, p. 11.ii