Renewable energy finally overtakes fossil fuels across Europe

Image Credit: Ember and Agora Energiewende

For the first time in 2020 and history, renewable energy sources overtook fossil fuels as the biggest source of energy in the European Union. 

Renewables accounted for 38% of the EU’s total energy consumption for 2020, according to a report released yesterday by energy and climate think tank Ember and Agora. The figure stands at a marginal lead against fossil fuels’ contribution of 37%. The other one-fourth comes from nuclear energy.

At the helm of the decarbonization in Europe are wind and solar sources, with wind and solar generation rising to 9% and 15%, respectively, over the 12 months. Wind and solar have generated the most electricity among renewables since 2015.

The findings also showed that Germany and Spain achieved the same milestone on the national level – so did the UK, a former EU member nation.

Rise of renewables still ‘too slow’

While the win for renewables is an important milestone in Europe’s Clean Energy Transition, wind and solar generation growth still lags behind Europe’s 2030 Green Deal targets. 

“Renewables overtaking fossils is an important milestone in Europe’s clean energy transition. However, let’s not be complacent,” said Agora Energiewende Director Patrick Graichen.

“Post-pandemic recovery programmes thus need to go hand-in-hand with accelerated climate action,” Graichen added.

Growth rates must nearly triple to reach 55% greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, based on Ember and Agora’s analysis. Meanwhile, deployment of renewables must double to reach the 100 TWh/year requirement.

Aside from halving carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, the European Union is set on completely decarbonizing the region by 2050 in an effort to mitigate the impending effects of climate change.

Coal declines but fossil gas remains

Coal generation made a significant fall in 2020, dropping by 20% since roughly halving in 2015. In total, the nonrenewable source consisting of hard coal and lignite supplied only 13% of Europe’s electricity in 2020.

To reach the 55% GHG emissions target, coal generation must hover around the zero mark by 2030, according to the European Commission’s impact assessment.

The actual effect of COVID-19 restrictions on fossil fuel decline is limited to coal generation. Fossil gas supplied 20% of Europe’s electricity in 2020, dropping only by 4% amidst reduced energy demands worldwide.

On the overall decline of fossil fuels, Ember senior electricity analyst Dave Jones said: “Rapid growth in wind and solar has forced coal into decline but this is just the beginning.”

“Europe is relying on wind and solar to ensure not only coal is phased out by 2030, but also to phase out gas generation, replace closing nuclear power plants, and to meet rising electricity demand from electric cars, heat pumps, and electrolysers.”


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