CREA, the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, tracks carbon emissions in Europe. In its latest report, it says November 2022 saw the lowest values for the month in the EU in at least 30 years for total CO2 emissions, gas consumption, power sector CO2 emissions, and power generation from fossil fuels.
Lauri Myllyvirta, a lead analyst and author of the report, said the data showed that accusations against the EU of falling back on climate commitments were wrong. “There has been a very widespread perception that Europe is going backwards on climate change, because of the Ukraine war,” he told The Guardian. “There were frequent remarks to that effect at Cop 27, saying Europe was going back to coal. We are showing that has not been the case. There was a misreading of coal consumption.”
Some member states, including Germany and Poland, have sought a limited return to burning coal for power generation in the face of soaring gas prices and supply constraints after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The UK has also put coal-fired power plants on standby.
Take THAT, Pooty Poot!
Power sector CO2 emissions and coal use fell for the third month in a row, CREA says. Total CO2 emissions have been falling since July, pulled by dramatic reductions in fossil gas use in industry and buildings.
There were widespread expectations that the fossil fuel crisis would lead to an increase in the EU’s carbon emissions. This was based on a misunderstanding. The EU is increasing fossil fuel imports from around the world, but not because of an increase in consumption. Rather, EU utilities were scrambling to replace the lost supply from Russia after that country cut off gas exports to the EU. In addition, weak nuclear and hydro power output were leading to increased demand for coal and gas in early 2022.
Myllyvirta added the transformation of Europe’s energy this year showed the underlying trend was strongly away from fossil fuels. “If anyone had said a year ago that Europe could nearly eliminate reliance on Russian fossil fuels in 10 months, they would have been taken for a complete lunatic,” he said. “But we have come quite close to doing so, and that is quite remarkable.
High Prices = Lower Demand = Lower Carbon Emissions
The reduction in emissions was caused by the impact of high prices on demand, CREA said, combined with increases in wind and solar power output. Hydro power output has recovered from the collapse that it experienced over the summer, but the French nuclear power operator EdF has not been able to meet its targets for reactor restarts, resulting in record low nuclear output in November.
In the power sector, both coal- and gas-fired power dropped year-on-year in November. Coal gained share within thermal power generation, as the fall in gas-fired power generation was approximately four times as large as the fall in coal-fired generation. Both wind and solar output made new records for the month (although solar is quite low in winter in absolute terms, of course).
As proof that the reduction in carbon emissions is not solely attributable to milder than expected weather, CREA says the weather only contributed to a 10% reduction in gas demand outside the power sector, while actual demand fell 26%. Within the power sector, milder temperatures can account for only 4% of the 12% drop in demand. Overall, about a third of the reduction in gas demand and power demand was due to weather that was milder than it was in 2021.
In other words, temperature-controlled gas demand fell by 20%, while temperature-controlled power demand fell 10% year on year in November. The high energy prices are driving reductions in demand, both through energy saving measures such as lower indoor temperatures and outright reductions in activity. The high fossil fuel prices are also encouraging a dramatic acceleration in investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, which will have a major impact on emissions over time.
In Germany, the increase in wind and solar power generation made up for the closure of nuclear plants, and the small reduction in power demand ensured that both coal- and gas-fired power generation fell year-on-year. The fall in France’s nuclear output remained massive, but an equally massive reduction in demand, combined with increases in wind and solar output, prevented an increase in generation from fossil fuels.
In Spain, Belgium and Italy, increases in renewable power generation and reductions in demand combined to push down fossil fuels. In Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands, there was no increase in clean power generation but fossil power generation fell regardless, due to reductions in demand.
December Is Colder
If November was milder than expected, temperatures are falling all across Europe in December. Nevertheless, total emissions in the first half of the month remained well below the 2021 level, proving the reduction in gas and electricity use isn’t primarily due to weather. Power sector carbon emissions started increasing again in December, as the sector continues to be plagued by the poor performance of nuclear and wind conditions were also very unfavorable, but reduced gas use outside the power sector has kept emissions falling overall.
Myllyvirta concluded his remarks to The Guardian by saying governments should seek to protect their most vulnerable citizens from the dangerous effects of the energy price rises that have forced such a sudden change. Europe could go further in weaning itself off Russian energy, and fossil fuels in general, but that should be managed equitably. “It’s unfortunate that so much of this reduction [in fossil fuel use] has happened through high prices, which is having major social and economic impacts,” he said.
More than anything else, Putin’s inhuman cruelty — deliberately targeting generating plants to leave civilians without heat in the depths of winter — has helped prove that renewables are up to the job of powering the grid even when temperatures plummet. The corollary to that is that renewables are the best way for nations to create their own energy security and cut their ties to lunatics and sociopaths who use access to fossil fuels to promote their own dastardly political objectives.
Considering all of the above, are there any reasons to continue using fossil fuel powered thermal generation? None that we can think of.
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