World electricity generation since 1900

In 1900 world electricity generation totaled about 6.4 terawatt-hours (TWh). This grew to 29,165 TWh in 2022, a rate of growth that far exceeded overall energy use. As a result, electricity grew from 0.1% to 22% of global primary energy use over this period.1


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For nearly half a century, coal and hydropower were the workhorses of global electricity generation, accounting for two-thirds of total generation as recently as 1970. Oil and natural gas took market share from coal and especially from hydropower beginning in the 1960s. Nuclear power accelerated in the 1980s. But taken as a whole, fossil fuels have retained a relatively stable fraction of electricity production (about 60%) from 1900 to 2017. Wind, solar, and other non-hydropower renewable sources expanded quickly beginning in the 2000s, but their share of total generation is still modest relative to fossil fuels.


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The rapid expansion of oil power plants in the 1960s was enabled by large new discoveries and stable oil prices. That abruptly changed in the wake of the energy price shocks of the 1970s. Oil was quickly abandoned in favor of natural gas and nuclear generation. The United States, Russia, and China rode the wave of expansive new natural gas supply with massive investment in gas power plants beginning in the 2000s.


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1 Pinto, Ricardo, Sofia T. Henriques, Paul E. Brockway, Matthew Kuperus Heun, and Tânia Sousa. “The Rise and Stall of World Electricity Efficiency:1900–2017, Results and Insights for the Renewables Transition.” Energy 269 (April 15, 2023): 126775.

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