2020 Proves Exceptional for Renewable Energy, and Outlook Shines for 2021-22

Despite the impact of a global pandemic, global annual renewable capacity additions rose by 45% in 2020. That solid forward momentum is expected to continue as the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted renewables will account for 90% of total power capacity increases worldwide in 2021 and 2022. 

Wind turbines in sunset, China

With its mission of advancing energy security, tracking clean energy growth, collecting information and offering training worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) organization last month released its Renewable Energy Market Update 2021 (IEA [2021], Renewable Energy Market Update 2021, IEA, Paris). The report highlighted global progress in renewable energy last year and made data-based predictions for this year and next.

2020 renewable capacity additions

Last year, renewable energy sources grew at their fastest pace in 20 years, resulting in significant capacity additions of 280  gigawatts (GW) globally. This growth reflected an increase of 45% over 2019 — despite COVID-19-related movement restrictions and supply chain delays. Key drivers included:

  • A remarkable 90% rise in global wind capacity additions.
  • A 23% expansion of new solar PV installations to nearly 135 GW.
  • Policy deadlines in China, the United States and Vietnam.
  • China’s former feed-in-tariffs (FIT) scheme required solar and onshore wind projects to be grid-connected by the end of 2020.
  • In the U.S., wind power developers completed their projects before the expiration of the production tax credit (PTC), which has now been extended through 2021.
    • In Vietnam, the FIT phaseout for solar PV projects significantly increased both commercial and residential installations. 

2021-22 forecast

IEA stated that last year’s growth “has established a ’new normal’ for capacity additions in 2021 and 2022.”

This new normal means the agency expected 270 GW to become operational in 2021 and 280 GW to go online in 2022. Even more significantly, the agency predicted renewables would make up 90% of total global power capacity increases each year. Key drivers will include:

  • Lower investment costs and ongoing policy support will drive growth in solar PV additions. As a result, IEA expected annual solar PV growth to reach 145 GW this year and 162 GW next year, accounting for more than 55% of all renewable energy.
    • The commissioning of mega-scale projects in China will drive the acceleration of hydropower in the next two years.
    • Stability in the growth of other renewables — led by bioenergy — will represent 3% of renewable capacity additions. 

Renewable energy highlights for countries and regions


The Chinese government phased out subsidies for wind and solar projects at the end of 2020, and with uncertainty surrounding its new incentives, its growth rate will slow. However, IEA expected annual renewable capacity additions in China to grow by at least 45% in 2021 and by 58% in 2022 to achieve the country’s 2060 net-zero goal.

European countries

IEA’s report predicted that as Europe accelerates its projects, it will become the second-largest market after China. More specifically, it forecasted an 11% increase this year, to 44 GW, and up to 49 GW in 2022. The countries that deliver the most renewable capacity additions in Europe are — in order of large to small increases — Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, the U.K. and Turkey. IEA attributed this prediction to the EU 2030 climate target and the rise in power purchase agreements (PPAs) in several countries. The report broke down specifics for each European country as follows:


  • Germany – support for solar PV, wind and bioenergy with higher auction volumes through Germany’s Renewable Energy Act 2021 (EEG).
  • The Netherlands – allocation of the new Renewable Energy Support Scheme (SDE++)  in December 2020.
  • Turkey – the extension of the FIT scheme for all renewables.
  • Poland – new auction awarded almost 1 GW of PV in December 2020.
  • Spain – a record number of corporate PPA agreements signed in 2020.
  • Sweden – low wind-generation costs stimulate a boom in the corporate PPA market; continuation of the PV rebate program.
  • The United Kingdom – proposal to re-include onshore wind and solar PV in the 2021 contracts for difference (CfD) auction.

Japan and Australia

According to the IEA report, Japan and Australia are the main drivers of renewable project additions outside China and India. Japan has a backlog of FIT-approved projects that will become operational this year and next. Australia exceeded its renewable energy target in 2020, and state-level incentives drive distributed PV growth and battery storage, particularly in the residential sector.

United States

In the U.S., IEA predicted continued expansion in 2021 and 2022, driven by the extension of the 26% investment tax credit (ITC), which reduces the price of projects.

”Higher corporate demand through PPAs driven by declining costs leads to a greater number of planned utility-scale projects,” wrote IEA analysts, concluding that US markets have recovered from the COVID-19 slowdown.

With the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan, growth may be spurred by a direct-pay provision that reduces costly tax equity needs. The program also provides a 10-year tax-credit extension for wind and solar developers. As this plan is still in the legislative process, IEA did not factor it into its prediction. However, the report cited declining costs, a recovering distributed PV market and increasing interest in PPAs as growth drivers for 2021-22.


IEA reported that solar capacity additions will more than triple this year over 2020 as delayed projects become operational. It’s worth noting that IEA completed its analysis before India’s recent COVID-19 pandemic crisis. According to the report, PV capacity additions in India will more than triple in 2021 compared with 2020 as delayed utility projects become operational. In addition, the Indian government awarded 27 GW of PV in auctions in 2020, with IEA citing these contracts as India’s primary growth driver in the next two years.

ASEAN region growth to be sluggish through 2022

Recently, fast solar PV expansion in Viet Nam brought capacity additions 60% higher in 2020 than in 2019. However, as FITs are being phased out in Vietnam and relatively little renewable energy in other ASEAN countries (Indonesia and Thailand), IEA predicted a 67% decline in expansion in the next two years.

Latin America

Latin American growth will be driven by distributed PV expansion in Brazil, accounting for 40% of the region’s expansion. Chile’s utility-scale market will be driven by previous auctions. In Mexico, utility-scale projects that are already financed will become operational in the next two years.



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