'Symbolic moment': Renewables speed past fossil fuels as EU's biggest source of electricity
Clean energy generated a historic 40 per cent of the bloc's electricity in the first half of 2020, according to green think tank Ember
Clean energy generated more electricity than fossil fuels in the EU over the first six months of 2020, largely due to a raft of new solar and wind installations dominating an electricity market pinched by Covid-19, new findings have shown.
A report published yesterday by climate think tank Ember notes that between January and June renewables generated 40 per cent of Europe's electricity, for the first time ever eclipsing the electricity share generated by gas and coal.
Despite electricity demand falling by seven per cent across the EU due to Covid-19 shutdowns, electricity generation from renewables shot up by 11 per cent due to a growing number of wind and solar installations and favourable weather conditions, the report notes. Across the six month period, wind and solar contributed to 22 per cent of Europe's electricity generation.
Fossil fuels, on the other hand, suffered from the fall in electricity demand, with coal and gas generation plummeting 18 per cent overall to make up just over a third of bloc's overall electricity share. The reduction in fossil fuel generation led to a 23 per cent drop in carbon emissions, the report notes.
Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst at Ember, said the findings marked a "symbolic moment" for the European power sector, given only a decade ago coal and gas far outstripped supply from the then-nascent renewables sector. "That's fast progress from just nine years ago when fossil fuels generated twice as much as renewables," he said.
The trends laid bare in the study are particular stark for Europe's ailing coal power sector, pointing out every Member State with coal assets saw a fall in coal generation in the first half of 2020.
Portugal saw a 95 per cent drop in coal generation amid extended periods of coal-free power over the period, while in Spain coal generation fell by 58 per cent even before half of its coal plants closed in June amid Covid-19 lockdown measures, the study shows. Germany's coal power gernation also plummeted by 39 per cent, as the country's share of wind and solar penetration soared to 42 per cent.
But Jones warned that despite the broad trend away from coal power, the pace of change of electricity generation was "not equal" across the bloc, noting that Poland has now overtaken Germany to become Europe's biggest coal generator.
Poland - which does not have a phase-out plan in place for its coal industry and is the only Member State yet to endorse the EU's 2050 carbon neutrality target - now generates more electricity from coal than 25 EU member states combined, according to the report. Moreover, the country not also has the second most expensive electricity in Europe after Greece, it said.
But Jones argued there was "a clear way out" of coal for countries such as Poland and the EU's third largest coal generator Czechia, highlighting the EU's €750bn Covid-19 economic recovery package which was endorsed by the Europen Council this week.
"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.