Low-emissions sources are set to cover almost all the growth in global electricity demand in the next three years.

The world’s electricity demand growth slowed only slightly in 2022, despite headwinds from the energy crisis, and is expected to accelerate in the years ahead. Renewables are set to dominate the growth of the world’s electricity supply over the next three years as together with nuclear power they meet the vast majority of the increase in global demand through to 2025, making significant rises in the power sector’s carbon emissions unlikely, according to a new IEA report.

 After slowing slightly last year to 2% amid the turmoil of the global energy crisis and exceptional weather conditions in some regions, the growth in world electricity demand is expected to accelerate to an average of 3% over the next three years, the IEA’s Electricity Market Report 2023 finds. Emerging and developing economies in Asia are the driving forces behind this faster pace, which is a step up from average growth of 2.4% during the years before the pandemic.

More than 70% of the increase in global electricity demand over the next three years is expected to come from China, India and Southeast Asia, although considerable uncertainties remain over trends in China as its economy emerges from strict Covid restrictions. China’s share of global electricity consumption is currently forecast to rise to a new record of one-third by 2025, up from one-quarter in 2015. At the same time, advanced economies are seeking to expand electricity use to displace fossil fuels in sectors such as transport, heating and industry.

“The world’s growing demand for electricity is set to accelerate, adding more than double Japan’s current electricity consumption over the next three years,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The good news is that renewables and nuclear power are growing quickly enough to meet almost all this additional appetite, suggesting we are close to a tipping point for power sector emissions. Governments now need to enable low-emissions sources to grow even faster and drive down emissions so that the world can ensure secure electricity supplies while reaching climate goals.”

 While natural gas-fired power generation in the European Union is forecast to fall in the coming years, based on current trends, significant growth in the Middle East is set to partly offset this decrease. Sharp spikes in natural gas prices amid the energy crisis have in turn fuelled soaring electricity prices in some markets, particularly in Europe, prompting debate in policy circles over reforms to power market design.

 Meanwhile, expected declines in coal-fired generation in Europe and the Americas are likely to be matched by a rise in the Asia-Pacific region, despite increases in nuclear power deployment and restarts of plants in some countries such as Japan. This means that after reaching an all-time high in 2022, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from global power generation are set to remain around the same level through 2025.

The strong growth of renewables means their share of the global power generation mix is forecast to rise from 29% in 2022 to 35% in 2025, with the shares of coal- and gas-fired generation falling. As a result, the CO2 intensity of global power generation will continue to decrease in the coming years. Europe bucked this global trend last year, however. The CO2 intensity of Europe’s power generation increased as a result of higher use of coal and gas amid steep drops in output from both hydropower, due to drought, and nuclear power, due to plant closures and maintenance. This setback will be temporary, though, as Europe’s power generation emissions are expected to decrease on average by about 10% a year through 2025.