2020 Landmark — Renewables Top Fossil Fuels In Europe For First Time

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Ember and Agora Energiewende have been tracking electricity generation in Europe for the past 5 years. Their latest annual report shows that renewables provided more electricity than fossil fuels in Europe for the first time ever in 2020. “Renewables rose to generate 38% of Europe’s electricity in 2020 (compared to 34.6% in 2019), for the first time overtaking fossil-fired generation, which fell to 37%. This is an important milestone in Europe’s clean energy transition. At a country level, Germany and Spain (and separately the UK) also achieved this milestone for the first time.”

Credit: Agora Energiewende

The good news is tempered with this caveat. “The transition from coal to clean is, however, still too slow for reaching 55% greenhouse gas reductions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. Wind and solar generation growth must nearly triple to reach Europe’s 2030 green deal targets: from 38 TWh per year average growth in 2010-2020 to 100 TWh per year average growth between 2020-2030.”

CNN Business reports Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst for Ember and the lead author of the report said in a statement, “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 electrolyzers.​”

In Europe, demand for electricity decreased 4% in 2020, according to the report. Since 2015, Europe’s electricity emissions recorded a historic decline, becoming 29% cleaner, the report noted. The pandemic helped lower the demand for electricity but “Post-pandemic economic recovery must not slow down climate action,” said Patrick Graichen, director of Agora Energiewende. “We therefore need strong climate policy — such as in the Green Deal — to ensure steady progress.”

Credit: Agora Energiewende


“Leaders in wind and solar show what is possible if there is sustained political will, while some countries continue to lag behind despite excellent solar and wind conditions, the report says. See chart above. “Denmark generated 62% of its electricity from wind and solar in 2020, which was almost twice the next country of Ireland. Germany was third, and then Spain overtook Portugal into fourth place. Seven countries, some with excellent conditions for solar and wind, have barely seen any growth since 2015 — Portugal, Romania, Austria, Italy,Czechia, Slovakia and Bulgaria.”

There is good news, however. Coal generation fell 20% in 2020, and is now half what it was in 2015. “Coal generation — hard coal and lignite — fell to 365 terawatt-hours in 2020, a fall of 48% since 2015,” the report says. “That is a remarkable achievement and is equivalent to around 320 million tons less CO2 per year, which is about 7% of Europe’s GHG emissions in 2020. Lignite generation fell 18% in 2020, its biggest fall since at least 2000 but once again this was less of a fall than hard coal generation, which is now substantially below lignite generation. Coal supplied just 13% of Europe’s electricity in 2020. Coal would need to fall to near-zero by 2030 to reach the EU’s 55% GHG emissions target, according to the European Commission’s impact assessment.”

This is all good news but it doesn’t mean nations can relax their plans to increase the availability of renewable energy in Europe — or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Renewables are surging and the fears that they would destabilize the grid and leave millions without electricity have proven to be illusory. The lesson is that renewables are real, relevant, and reliable. With proper policy commitments, they can free humanity from the scourge of polluting the atmosphere so we can watch reruns of Real Housewives Of Sheboygan any time we choose.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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