Renewables Overtake Fossil Fuels Recording 22% Of EU’s Electricity

By Tirok Yatich

Europe ‘avoids the worst’ of the energy crisis as coal power falls this winter facing an increase in the renewables; wind and solar energy.

Wind and solar energy have overtaken fossil gas to generate a record 22% of EU electricity in 2022 according to the European Electricity Review.

The report, published Tuesday by energy think tank – Ember indicated that Coal power share increased by just 1.5 percentage points to generate 16% of EU electricity in 2022, with year-on-year falls in the last four months of 2022 as Europe prevented a threatened return to coal power in the wake of the 2022 energy crisis.

Europe weathered the triple crisis

The analysis by Ember reveals that Europe faced a triple crisis in the electricity sector in 2022. Just as Europe scrambled to cut ties with its biggest supplier of fossil gas, it faced the lowest levels of hydro and nuclear in at least two decades, which created a deficit equal to 7% of Europe’s total electricity demand in 2022.

Record growth in wind and solar helped cushion the hydro and nuclear deficit. Solar generation rose the fastest, growing by a record 39 TWh (+24%) in 2022—almost twice its previous record—which helped to avoid €10 billion in gas costs. Twenty EU countries set new solar records in 2022.

Lower electricity demand also helped reduce the deficit. EU electricity demand dropped by 7.9% in the last quarter of 2022 compared to the same period the previous year (-56 TWh), close in scale to the 9.6% fall (-61 TWh) witnessed in Q2 2020 when lockdowns were first imposed across much of Europe. Mild weather was a deciding factor, but affordability pressures likely played a role, alongside energy efficiency improvements and citizens acting in solidarity to cut energy demand in a time of crisis.

Just one-sixth of the nuclear and hydro deficit was met by coal. Coal generation rose by 7% (+28 TWh). As a result, EU power sector emissions rose by 3.9% (+26 MtCO2) in 2022 compared to 2021. It could have been much worse: wind, solar, and a fall in electricity demand prevented a much larger return to coal. In context, coal’s rise was not substantial: coal power remained below 2018 levels and added only 0.3% to global coal generation.

Coal power in the EU fell in all four of the final months of 2022, down 6% year-on-year. The 26 coal units placed on emergency standby for winter ran at an average of just 18% capacity. Despite importing 22 million tonnes of extra coal throughout 2022, the EU only used a third of it. Countries are as committed to phasing out coal as they were before the crisis.

Perhaps most surprisingly, gas generation was almost unchanged (+0.8%) in 2022 compared to 2021, despite record-high prices. Fossil gas generated 20% of EU electricity in 2022, up from 19% the previous year. However, this trend is expected to change drastically in the coming year.

Gas generation set for a record fall in 2023

The latest indications from the industry suggest that in 2023, Europe’s transition to wind and solar will accelerate in response to the energy crisis, and hydro and French nuclear will recover. As a result, Ember estimates that fossil generation could plummet by 20% in 2023, double the previous record from 2020. Coal generation will fall, but gas generation, which is expected to remain more expensive than coal until at least 2025, will fall the fastest.

According to Mohamed Adow, Climate justice advocate and director of energy and climate think-tank, Power Shift Africa, he indicated that it has been clear from the start that the dash for African gas is superficial, and Europe has known this all along.

“This report should be an eye-opener for Africa – that the very people misleading the continent into producing gas for their needs, are working on the sidelines to shift to renewables at scale. Unfortunately, in its rush to invest in gas for export, Africa will shortchange itself. Africa risks being late to the party again instead of being a frontrunner in the move to a greener, and sustainable future. We can’t let this happen.”

 EU wind and solar generated more than gas for the first time

Share of electricity generation (%)

YearGasCoalWind and solarHydro and nuclearOther

Chart 2: A big fall in fossil generation is expected in 2023

Year-on-year change in electricity generation (TWh)

2022 (actual)2023 (projected)
Wind & Solar+72+86
Coal & Gas+33-211
Demand change-79-84

Karimi Kinoti, Policy and Campaigns Director, Christian Aid said that it is encouraging to see the EU increase its investments in renewable energy in line with its immediate energy security needs and longer-term net zero commitments.

“Wind and solar are readily-available energy sources in Africa, however, the continent will continue to lag behind without adequate and affordable access to capital and technology to meet its own energy needs. We know that the cost of renewables is now much cheaper than fossil fuels,” Christian added.

Why should Africa’s share of global investment on renewable energy account for only 1%? The continent must also have a fair and just opportunity to develop its abundant renewable energy sources. It must not continue to be left behind.

– Christian Aid –

 “The findings of this report on Europe are both encouraging and a warning for Africa. Its data underlines the risk that Africa faces of ending up with stranded assets in terms of large investments in fossil fuels energy infrastructure, at a time when Africa also has a huge abundance of untapped renewable energy potential,” James Mwangi, Chief Executive Officer of Africa Climate Ventures, and Founder of the Climate Action Platform – Africa said.

Mwangi further added that it makes little to no sense for Africa to spend large amounts of its limited investment capital on a fading technology that will inevitably need to be written off in the near future and is already losing ground to renewables even in Europe.

“Renewables have a much-extended lifespan and more attractive long-term economics. The $133 billion every year needed by Africa in clean energy investment is what this continent needs.”

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