Renewables Overtake Fossil Fuels as Europe’s Primary Source of Electricity

Renewables overtook fossil fuels as the European Union’s (EU) primary source of electricity due to the rapid growth of clean energy and decline of coal power, according to a new report by Ember and Agora Energiwende.

This news comes on the heels of annual energy consumption from renewable sources in the United States in 2019 exceeding coal consumption for the first time since 1885, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) ‘Monthly Energy Review.’

The report said that renewables generated 38% of Europe’s electricity in 2020, while fossil fuels like gas and coal produced 37% of power in 2020.

Renewables overtake Fossil Fuels

In November 2020, The European Commission unveiled a strategy to help achieve the EU’s climate neutrality target by 2050. The plan suggested increasing Europe’s offshore wind capacity up to 60 GW by 2030 and 300 GW by 2050, from its existing capacity of 12 GW.

The region witnessed rapid growth in solar and wind power generation, which increased twice since 2015 to satisfy one-fifth of Europe’s electricity demand in 2020. Despite COVID-19, in 2020, new solar and wind installations were robust and might see record new installations in 2021, the report said.

Denmark achieved the highest share of wind and solar power that contributed to 62% of its power needs, followed by Ireland with 35% share. Germany and Spain achieved 33% and 29% share of wind and solar power, respectively. Countries with the lowest share, below 10%, were Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

However, solar and wind power generation needs to triple around 100 TWh annually, compared to the average generation of 38 TWh/year of the last decade, to reach Europe’s 2030 green deal target to reduce 55% greenhouse gas emissions.

Patrick Graichen, Director of Agora Energiewende, said, “The latest National Energy and Climate Plans of EU member states would only increase that figure to 75 TWh per year through to 2030.”

On the other hand, coal power generation declined 20% in 2020 and 48% since 2015, which is equivalent to reducing 320 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Europe saw coal decline in almost every country. Germany, Europe’s largest coal generator, witnessed a 22% decline in its coal generation in 2020. However, coal needs to decline to near-zero by 2030 to achieve Europe’s 2030 green deal target.

Dave Jones, a Senior Electricity Analyst at Ember, said, “Rapid growth in wind and solar has forced coal into decline, but this is just the beginning. Europe is relying on solar and wind to ensure not only coal is phased out by 2030, but also to phase out gas generation, replace closing nuclear power facilities, and to meet demand from electric cars, heat pumps and electrolyzers.”

The report revealed that Europe’s electricity is cleaner 29% compared to 2015, and carbon intensity of power generation achieved record lows, with 226 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2020.

Countries across the globe are focusing on renewable expansion with a renewed push. Mercom reported in November 2020 that the United Kingdom had announced a ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution. The plan includes increasing the country’s offshore wind capacity up to 40 GW by 2030.