Renewables trump coal in Europe for first time

Flexible energy options make power systems cleaner, cheaper
Credit: Kletr

In 2017, for the first time, wind, sun and biomass has delivered more electricity than hard coat and lignite in the European Union for the first time, according to a new study.

Electricity generation from these “new renewables”, which only really saw large-scale uptake beginning in 2000, grew by 12% last year.

Since 2010, the share of wind, solar and biomass electricity in the EU has more than doubled. However, because hydropower production fell sharply in 2017, renewable electricity only achieved a slightly higher share in the EU than in the previous year, rising from 29.8 to 30.0 percent of electricity production.

This is shown by analysis of two think tanks: Sandbag from Great Britain and Agora Energiewende from Germany. The authors of the study have compiled and evaluated public data from numerous sources.

The analysis also shows that the share of renewables in the various EU countries is growing very unevenly.

In the past three years, for example, the United Kingdom and Germany have contributed to more than half of the increase in renewables – wind energy in particular is playing a major role here.

In Germany, in 2017, 30% of the electricity was generated from wind, solar and biomass, and 28% in the UK.

The strongest percentage growth was recorded in Denmark: in 2017, 74% of the electricity produced there came from wind, solar and biomass, a rise of seven percentage points.

The strong growth in a few countries is contrasted with very low growth in many other EU countries: anaemic growth throughout the decade can be observed in Slovenia, Bulgaria, France, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

On fossil energy, the development is mixed. Hard coal power generation fell by 7% because of higher wind generation, and with coal phase-outs announced in Netherlands, Italy and Portugal, hard coal generation will continue to fall.

However, lignite generation rose slightly, and retirements are scant; meaning the route away from lignite is far from assured.

Despite the increase in wind and solar energy, the CO2 emissions of the European electricity sector did not fall in 2017, remaining stable at 1,019 million tonnes.

A combination of three factors has led to this: Firstly, the production of electricity from hydropower has fallen to a Europe-wide low, mainly due to low rainfall and snowfall.

Second, nuclear power plants in France and Germany delivered less electricity than in previous years.

And thirdly, electricity consumption in the European Union has grown for the third year in a row: It rose by 0.7% in 2017.

As CO2 emissions have even risen beyond the electricity sector, the authors forecast emissions within the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) rose for the first time since 2010, from 1,750 million tonnes in 2016 to 1,756 million tonnes.

However, oil and gas consumption outside the EU ETS also rose, so Sandbag and Agora Energiewende forecast a rise in total EU greenhouse gas emissions of around 1%.

In order to achieve the EU’s 2030 renewable energy target, the EU will need to increase its efforts in deploying renewables in the coming years compared to recent trends.