Europe generated record levels of wind energy over the first quarter of 2019, according to new figures published by energy consultancy EnAppSys, and surpassed hydroelectric levels for the second quarter in a row.
EnAppSys published first-quarter updates for both Great Britain and the European Union last week, in which it highlighted the continually increasing role of renewable energy in Britain’s energy mix (covered more fully here) and the increasingly dominant role of wind energy in Europe’s grid.
According to EnAppSys figures, wind energy across Europe recorded a new record combined power output of 103,993 megawatts (MW) for the first quarter, up from the previously recorded high of 97,759 MW in the first quarter of 2018. For the second quarter in a row and the second ever on record, European wind energy produced more electricity than hydroelectricity.
Unfortunately, while wind energy benefited from an impressive record quarter, hydro levels were significantly down due to a warm start to the year. Specifically, hydro generation levels dropped 24% from the same quarter a year earlier, which contributed to an 8% drop in the overall renewable energy generation levels. Hydro’s decline was mitigated somewhat by an 8% rise in wind levels and 14$ rise in solar output.
EnAppSys also reported that rising carbon costs and coal plant closures across Europe combined to help gas-fired power generation overtake output from other forms of fossil fuels for the first time in recent history. Specifically, gas plants produced 117 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity over the first quarter of 2019 — as compared to 104.7 TWh from hydroelectricity and 105.4 TWh from wind — while generation from coal, lignite, and gas-to-coal plants totaled 110.9 TWh. This continues to highlight the sector-wide shift away from coal-fired power generation, which in the first quarter of 2015 provided more than double the electricity generated by gas-fired plants. Since then, however, gas-fired plants increased their levels of generation by 91% while generation from coal sources have dropped by almost a third.
“The report has produced several notable trends in the European power generation market,” said Jean-Paul Harreman, director of EnAppSys BV.
“The transition from coal to gas has been driven by higher-than-usual carbon taxes in Britain, costs associated with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) and the acceleration of coal plant closures in several countries.
“This trend is likely to continue, with Germany looking to phase out coal quicker than originally anticipated and countries such as Estonia continuing to generate a large share of their electricity from high-polluting oil (or shale oil) sources.
“Much of the nuclear output was generated by power plants in France, although a lot of these plants – and other nuclear plants across Europe – are being phased out so in time these volumes will have to be replaced by alternative sources.
“Some of the slack will be picked up by hydro plants, which historically have contributed the largest share of renewable generation across Europe. However, in Q1 2019 hydro plants produced 7% less than in the previous quarter and 25% less than in Q1 2018. The largest source of renewable output in the quarter came from onshore and offshore wind farms, which produced 105.4TWh of power – up 8% on Q1 2018 and 57% since the first three months of 2015.”