When It Comes to Clean Electricity, India Ranks 9th Among the G20: Report

India's continued and high dependence on coal for power is to blame. Brazil, which will take over G20 presidency from India next year, is in first place in the think tank Ember's fourth annual Global Electricity Review.

New Delhi: Brazil has the highest share of clean electricity among the G20 nations, as per a report released on May 15 by international energy think tank Ember. India is behind, at ninth spot among the 20 countries part of the group, since it still relies largely on coal for power (74% of India’s energy is still coal-powered).

Worldwide, wind and solar contributed to a record 12% of global electricity in 2022, the report found. And though the share of coal power in G20 countries has reduced since the Paris Agreement of 2015, the change is not fast enough to limit global warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius, the report noted.

Transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy

Switching to clean energy sources – such as wind and solar – are among the actions that nations have to take as part of the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty which requires countries to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. One way that they do this is by listing renewable energy targets as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. India, for instance, has pledged to achieve about 50% cumulative electric power of installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.

Ember, a not-for-profit energy think tank, analyses the resulting changes in global electricity generation and releases annual Global Electricity Reviews. On May 15, it released its fourth annual Global Electricity Review, which analysed changes in global electricity generation for the year 2022 based on electricity data from 78 countries. It also provided data on the G20 countries.

Per the report, Brazil (which is set to host the G20 next year) has the highest share of clean electricity in the G20. In 2022, Brazil generated 89% of its electricity from clean sources (dominated by hydropower at 63%). Fossil fuels accounted for only 11% of Brazil’s generation in 2022.  

India – which assumed the presidency of the G20 last year – is behind, at ninth spot among the G20 countries, due to its huge reliance on coal-powered energy sources. India’s demand for electricity is growing: in 2022, it rose to 1,836 TWh (terawatt hours). It is getting 9% of its electricity from solar and wind, but still relies predominantly (77%) on coal for electricity generation.

“Brazil is way ahead of India in securing a clean electricity system,” said Dave Jones, Ember’s Head of Data Insights, in a press release. “G20 hosts can both learn from each others’ successes.”

Though Brazil had a headstart with a strong base in hydroelectric power, they also grew their wind power by 16 times in the last decade, he said. 

The share of coal power in G20 countries has reduced since the Paris Agreement of 2015. According to the report, the fastest decline among G20 countries has been achieved by the United Kingdom, which reduced its coal generation by 93% since the Paris Agreement. Among the advanced (OECD) economies in the G20, there has been a reduction in coal generation by 42% in absolute terms, from 2,624 TWh in 2015 to 1,855 TWh in 2022, a press release also stated. 

Globally, wind and solar contributed to a record 12% of global electricity generated in 2022, per the report. The year 2022 may hit “peak” emissions, as countries try to cut down on fossil fuel use. 

Also read: India’s U-Turn on ‘Clean’ Energy Is a Bad Move

Change not fast enough

However, this transition to clean energy is still not enough to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius, the report said. There is still a huge reliance on fossil fuels. Thirteen of the G20 countries still get over half of their electricity from fossil fuels as of 2022, the report found. Saudi Arabia relies entirely on oil and gas; South Africa (86%), Indonesia (82%) and India (77%) are the next most reliant on fossil fuels (predominantly coal) for electricity generation. 

Just five G20 nations have seen coal increase in absolute terms since 2015: China, India (a 35% increase), Indonesia, Russia and Türkiye. Among those, China and India have been able to reduce the percentage share of coal in that period, as they focus on scaling up wind and solar to meet rising demand, the report noted. India achieved a small decline in the electricity generated from coal – from 76% of electricity from coal in 2015 to 74% in 2022. 

“G20 countries are mostly already moving towards a cleaner electricity system but this now needs to be accelerated,” said Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, senior analyst at Ember and lead author of the 2023 report, in a press release. “The cheapest and fastest way to achieve that will be through the rapid  roll out of proven technologies – wind and solar – not through gambling on unproven  technologies like fossil fuels with carbon capture.” 

Replacing coal with wind and solar is the “closest thing we have to a silver bullet for the climate,” she also said in the report. “Not only do solar and wind cut emissions fast, they also bring down electricity costs and reduce health-harming pollution.”

This decade is “the beginning of the end of the fossil [fuel] age”, said Wiatros-Motyka in the report. 

“We are entering the clean power era. The stage is set for wind and solar to achieve a meteoric rise to the top…Change is coming fast. However, it all depends on the actions taken now by governments, businesses and citizens to put the world on a pathway to clean power by 2040,” she said.

India needs to “build upon its recent solar power surge”, Aditya Lolla, Senior Electricity Policy Analyst, Ember, said in the report. “It needs to ramp up renewable generation capacity to meet its growing demand, build enough storage capacity to meet peak demand and develop infrastructure to facilitate grid integration.”

However, solar, hydro and wind energy, though labeled as clean, sustainable sources of energy, are not necessarily green or just: they can have far-reaching social, environmental and ecological consequences. For instance, studies have shown that India is among the regions globally that have the highest proportion of renewable energy facilities coming up in important conservation areas.