A new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit has concluded that Europe’s coal consumption has been in long-term decline, and the region’s reliance on it is not as uniformly high as many assume.
Published this week, the new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), The role of coal in Europe’s power mix shows that coal generation across Europe has fallen consistently since 2013, falling more than 10% and negating the modest increase in coal generation that was seen at the beginning of this decade. As a result, coal’s share of power generation in Europe has fallen to well below 25%.
Coal now accounts for less than one-third of total power generation in most EU member states — although it does contribute more than 40% in five. Germany and Poland alone account for nearly a half of all European Union coal generation. In a global frame, the European Union accounted for 36% of global coal consumption in 1965, but that figure had fallen dramatically to only 7% in 2015.
Much of the decline in coal for Europe has been centered in the UK, which has been closing coal power plants regularly in favor of natural gas and a few renewable energy sources like offshore wind. The EIU’s report matches up with recent analysis published in late January which claimed emissions from the EU’s power sector had fallen by 4.5% in 2016. Specifically, European coal generation fell by 94 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2016 as gas generation increased by 101 TWh. The report further specified that half of the decline was focused in the UK, which has been shuttering coal plants.
In fact, according to the EIU report, coal-fired generation only accounted for 9% of total UK power generation in 2016 (quoting from Carbon Brief). Specifically, the UK’s coal fleet has been cut in half — dropping from 17 active coal-fired plants in 2012 to only eight in 2016, with four closing that year.
The decline of coal elsewhere has been more incremental, however, the EIU report did highlight both the Netherlands and Germany for moving to reducing their coal capacity, while smaller coal countries such as France and Finland have both vowed to phase coal generation out as well.
“An inflection point has been reached where some states in the region are becoming more pro-active in addressing reliance on coal-fired power,” says Peter Kiernan, Lead Energy Analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit.
The report makes an important distinction, however, with regards to the larger reliance on coal:
In exploring the policy and market landscape for coal generation in Europe, the report argues that while EU-wide policies such as emissions reduction targets, renewables mandates, air quality directives and the emissions trading scheme have set the framework for de-carbonisation of Europe’s power sector, directly addressing the issue of coal reliance has been largely left to member states.
The EIU argues that “the EU’s long-term goal to reduce emissions by 80 to 95% from 1990 levels by 2050 will be difficult to achieve without an accelerated reduction in unabated coal generation in the short to medium term.” Further, “the current pace indicates that absent more ambition on the policy front it will be difficult to realise longer term emissions reduction goals.”