Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeRenewablesRenewables historically overtake gas in EU electricity generation, says report
Powered by

Renewables historically overtake gas in EU electricity generation, says report

Wind and solar accounted for 22 per cent of the electricity generated in the EU in 2022, overtaking natural gas (20 per cent) for the first time in history, according to the European Electricity Review published on Tuesday (31 January) by the energy think-tank Ember.

Coal power share increased by just 1.5 percentage points to generate 16 per cent of EU electricity in 2022, with year-on-year falls in the last four months of 2022 as Europe prevented the speculated return of coal power amid the continent-wide energy crisis. 

“Europe has avoided the worst of the energy crisis,” said Ember’s Head of Data Insights, Dave Jones. “The shocks of 2022 only caused a minor ripple in coal power and a huge wave of support for renewables. Any fears of a coal rebound are now dead.”

The analysis by Ember revealed that Europe faced a triple crisis in the electricity sector in 2022. Just as Europe scrambled to cut ties with its biggest supplier of natural gas, it faced the lowest levels of hydro and nuclear in at least two decades, which created a deficit equal to 7 per cent of Europe’s total electricity demand in 2022. 

Record growth in wind and solar helped cushion the hydro and nuclear deficit, according to Ember. Solar generation rose the fastest, growing by a record 39 terawatt-hours, TWh (+24 per cent) in 2022—almost twice its previous record—which helped to avoid 10 billion euros in gas costs. As part of this, 20 EU countries set new solar records in 2022.

Lower electricity demand also helped reduce the deficit, the energy think-tank added. EU electricity demand dropped by 7.9 per cent in the last quarter of 2022 compared to the same period the previous year (-56 TWh), close in scale to the 9.6 per cent fall (-61 TWh) witnessed in the second half of 2020 when lockdowns were first imposed across much of Europe. Mild weather was a deciding factor, but affordability pressures likely played a role, alongside energy efficiency improvements and citizens acting in solidarity to cut energy demand in a time of crisis, the analysis highlighted.

Just one-sixth of the nuclear and hydro deficit was met by coal. Coal generation rose by 7 per cent (+28 TWh). As a result, EU power sector emissions rose by 3.9 per cent (+26 MtCO2) in 2022 compared to 2021. According to the think-tank, it could have been much worse: wind, solar and a fall in electricity demand prevented a much larger return to coal. In context, coal’s rise was not substantial: coal power remained below 2018 levels and added only 0.3 per cent to global coal generation.

Coal power in the EU fell in all four of the final months of 2022, down 6 per cent year-on-year. The 26 coal units placed on emergency standby for winter ran at an average of just 18 per cent capacity. Despite importing 22 million tonnes of extra coal throughout 2022, the EU only used a third of it. Countries are as committed to phasing out coal as they were before the crisis.

As noted in Ember’s press release, gas generation was almost unchanged (+0.8 per cent) in 2022 compared to 2021, despite record-high prices. Fossil gas generated 20 per cent of EU electricity in 2022, up from 19 per cent the previous year. However, this trend is expected to change drastically in the coming year. 

Long-term trends in electricity demand per capita in CEE

EU-wide electricity demand per capita has remained broadly flat over the last two decades, Ember’s analysis noted. In 2000, it was 6.2 megawatt-hours (MWh), rising only slightly to 6.3 MWh in 2022.

However, this varies at the country level, according to the analysis. Countries in the CEE region such as Hungary, Croatia, Poland and Lithuania have seen moderate increases whereas western European countries like Germany, Spain and France have seen demand per capita decline.

Renewables to continue breaking records in 2023

As stated in Ember’s press release, the latest industry indications suggested that in 2023, Europe’s transition to wind and solar will continue to grow amid the energy crisis. As a result, Ember estimated that fossil generation could plummet by 20 per cent in 2023, double the previous record from 2020. Coal generation will fall, but gas generation, which is expected to remain more expensive than coal until at least 2025, will fall the fastest, according to Ember.

“We are seeing a remarkable acceleration in the pace with which renewable energy is being built. Especially for offshore wind and rooftop solar, the numbers are impressive. It’s clear that European citizens want to benefit from cheap, clean energy. It shows that our target of 45 per cent renewables by 2030 is ambitious but entirely feasible,” said Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans. “Europeans know that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Renewables are crucial to tackle the climate crisis and cut air pollution. They are also crucial to end our dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The ongoing energy crisis will still bring another difficult winter, but the more renewables we have, the more sovereign we are in our energy supply.”

Sign up for our newsletters

    Monthly newsletter – Delivering the most important energy stories of the month selected by our Editor-in-chief
    Weekly Oil&Gas roundup - All major news about the oil and gas industry, LNG developments, the upscaling of new gases and related EU regulations arriving in your mailbox every Monday.
    Weekly Renewables&Climate roundup - All major news about investments in renewable energy sources, environment protection, green hydrogen and new innovative ways to tackle the climate crisis arriving in your mailbox every Tuesday.

    Most Popular