Europe’s electricity transition faced a dramatic first half of 2020, which culminated in renewable generation overtaking fossil-fuelled generation for the first time ever. This continues the trend of the last decade. In the first half of 2020, renewables generated 40 percent of the EU-27’s electricity, whereas fossil fuels generated 34 percent according to a new report from Ember, a UK-based think-tank formerly known as Sandbag Climate Campaign CIC (Sandbag).
According to the report “Renewables beat fossil fuels – A half-yearly analysis of Europe’s electricity transition“, most of this is as coal has been replaced by wind and solar. Coal’s market share has halved since 2016 to just 12 percent of the EU-27’s electricity generation. Meanwhile, wind and solar have increased its market share from 13 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in the first half of 2020.
Renewable electricity generation exceeded fossil fuel generation, for the first time ever. In the first half of 2020, renewables – wind, solar, hydro, and bioenergy – generated 40 percent of the EU-27’s electricity, whereas fossil fuels generated 34 percent. Renewables rose by 11 percent, driven by new wind and solar installations and favourable conditions during a mild and windy start to the year.
Wind and solar alone reached a record of 21 percent of Europe’s total electricity generation and reached even higher penetration in Denmark (64 percent), Ireland (49 percent), and Germany (42 percent). The report notes that although electricity grids have coped well with record wind and solar penetrations, negative prices are highlighting inflexibilities in supply and demand that need to be addressed.
Hydro generated 13 percent of Europe’s electricity in H1-2020. Bioenergy generated 6 percent of Europe’s electricity in H1-2020, of which under 15 percent is generated by using forest biomass (ie woodchips and pellets) to replace coal in power stations which the authors say “should not be assumed to deliver the same climate benefits as renewables such as wind and solar”.
Increased renewable generation and lower power demand
Fossil fueled power generation fell by 18 percent squeezed on two fronts: by rising renewable generation and a 7 percent fall in electricity demand due to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Coal took the brunt, falling by 32 percent. Of that, hard coal generation fell 34 percent and lignite fell 29 percent.
Even natural gas generation registered a fall of 6 percent, falling in eleven countries. As a result, EU-27 power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fell by about 23 percent. Notable too is that Germany’s coal generation collapses below Poland’s for the first time. Poland now generates more coal-fired electricity than Germany, and also as much as the remaining 25 EU countries combined.
Whilst most other countries, including Germany, have a plan to phase out coal, the report notes that Poland does so yet have a plan.
This marks a symbolic moment in the transition of Europe’s electricity sector. Renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels, driven by wind and solar replacing coal. That’s fast progress from just nine years ago when fossil fuels generated twice as much as renewables. But the change is not equal: Poland is now Europe’s biggest coal generator and Czechia is the third largest. For countries like Poland and Czechia there is now a clear way out, should they choose to take it. 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, commented Dave Jones, Senior electricity analyst, Ember.