New analysis published this week has shown that European Union power emissions fell by 4.5% in 2016, thanks in large part to a massive switch from coal generation to gas generation.
The new report was published by think tanks Sandbag and Agora Energiewende on Wednesday, analyzing the European power sector as it pertains to the energy transition — “the transformation of the power sector from a fossil-based to a decarbonised world with renewables at the centre.”
According to the two think tanks, European coal generation fell by 94 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2016, while gas generation increased by 101 TWh — resulting directly in 48 megatonnes less carbon dioxide emitted. Half of this happened in the United Kingdom, as numerous coal plants were shuttered permanently, and a higher carbon price was enacted. Italy, Netherlands, Germany, and Greece also combined to the massive switch from coal to gas.
Unfortunately for gas proponents, gas generation was still well below the 2010 record of 168 TWh, showing that more coal to gas switching is possible without additions to infrastructure.
“The large switch from dirty coal to gas is welcome news,” explained Dave Jones, analyst at Sandbag. “It helps the climate, and more importantly leads to cleaner air for Europe. Further switching away from coal is possible without building new gas pipelines and gas power plants. However, the ingredients to make this happen do not yet exist — few old coal plants have announced they are planning to close, and gas is still more expensive than coal because of a low carbon price.”
As for renewables, the report found that there was very little change, only increasing from 29.2% in 2015 to 29.6% worth of the overall electricity mix. The report concluded that bad solar and wind conditions were partly responsible for this, especially considering that wind and solar conditions were well above average in 2015. Even so, new capacity installed was still relatively small.
On the plus side, massive price drops for renewable energy has given hope to the industry for future growth — specifically, low renewables auction resulted across the region, with 49,9 Euros/MWh for wind offshore and 53,8 Euros/MWh for solar, both in Denmark.
Electricity consumption only rose 0.5% over the year, despite European GDP increasing by 1.7% — another example of the slow decoupling of energy consumption with GDP.
The authors of the report also predict further big falls in fossil generation in 2017, but they are uncertain whether that is likely to happen in the coal or gas sectors.