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Renewables overtake fossil fuels in EU electricity generation
Renewable energy sources have overtaken coal, oil and gas in EU electricity generation for the first time ever, according to a study by climate think-tank Ember.
The report: Renewables beat fossil fuels – A half-yearly analysis of Europe’s electricity transition found that wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy generated 40% of the 27 member states’ electricity in the first half of 2020, beating fossil fuels which accounted for 34%. As a result, carbon emissions from the bloc’s power sector fell by nearly a quarter.
The 7% fall in electricity demand due to COVID-19 squeezed fossil fuel generation particularly hard, causing coal generation to fall by 32% and gas generation by 6%. Coal generation fell by 95% in Portugal, which saw extended periods completely coal-free, bringing forward the planned shutdown of coal-fired power plants by two years to 2021. Spain’s coal generation collapsed by 58% even before it closed half of its fleet at the end of June.
Meanwhile, the report showed that renewable generation rose by 11%, driven largely by new wind and solar installations and favourable weather conditions, such as a very windy February and wetter Iberian and Nordic regions driving more hydro generation. Wind generation rose by 11%, solar by 16%, and hydro by 12%. Denmark generated 64% of its electricity from wind and solar.
Coal remained a sticking point in Poland, where generation fell by only 12%. For the first time ever, Poland burned more coal than Germany, and more than the remaining 25 EU nations combined.
Poland recently scrapped plans to close two mines owned by the country’s biggest coal producer PGG, following opposition from trade unions. It currently has no plan to phase out coal and is the only member of the EU that has not pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, says Ember.
Dave Jones, Senior Electricity Analyst at Ember, said the changes highlighted in the report marked a symbolic moment in the transition of Europe’s electricity sector: ‘fast progress from just nine years ago when fossil fuels generated twice as much as renewables.’
Jones also pointed to the EU’s recently announced €750bn pandemic recovery fund and €1.1tn seven-year budget as important tools for future change: ‘Europe’s Next Generation recovery deal can help countries fast-track their coal-to-clean transition by using stimulus spending to immediately step up wind and solar investment, and an expanded Just Transition Fund to move away from coal,’ he said.
EU leaders have agreed a plan to jointly borrow €750bn to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a €1.tn budget for 2021–27, with 30% of the recovery fund to be used to address the climate crisis.
The agreement, which was made after the bloc’s longest summit in over two decades, will be composed of €390bn in grants and €360bn in loans to be allocated to countries and sectors most impacted by the pandemic. It was announced by European Council President, Charles Michel, in a one-word tweet: ‘Deal!’