China, U.S. Made 2020 a Record Year for Renewable Power Growth

Source: By Verity Ratcliffe, Bloomberg • Posted: Monday, April 5, 2021

A record amount of renewable energy capacity was built last year, thanks largely to investments in China and the U.S., according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Renewables — mostly in the form of wind and solar — accounted for 82% of new electricity installation in 2020, said Abu Dhabi-based Irena, which advises governments on clean power. China added 136 gigawatts, more than half the total and a similar amount to Spain’s overall power production.

“These numbers tell a remarkable story,” said Irena Director General Francesco La Camera. “Despite the difficult period, as we predicted, 2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables. Costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear.”

Renewables still lag dirtier forms of electricity generation, with their share of total capacity rising two percentage points from 2019 to 36.6%, Irena said in a report.

The organization said there was still “a huge amount to be done.” Decarbonization to limit the worst effects of climate change will require a 10-fold expansion in renewable energy through 2050, or investment of $4.4 trillion a year, Irena said earlier this month.

China, which is both the largest market for clean power and the world’s biggest polluter, built 72 GW of wind energy and 49 GW of solar in 2020, according to Monday’s report. The U.S. installed 29 GW of renewables, almost 80% more than in 2019.

While renewable capacity grew, there was a net decommissioning of fossil-fuel power generation in Europe, North America and nations such as Russia and Turkey, the report said. Total fossil fuel additions fell to 60 GW in 2020 from 64 GW the previous year, it said.


  • Renewable capacity grew by 260 GW, or 10.3%, in 2020 to 2,799 GW; solar power accounted for 49% of additions
  • Hydropower makes up 43% of renewable capacity, though it grew by just 2%, or 20 GW, in 2020; wind and solar each account for 26%
  • Asia, the Middle East and Africa continued to build traditional power plants in 2020