Fossil fuels squeezed on two fronts in 2020: by rising wind and solar generation and falling demand due to COVID-19.
[London, 22 July 2020] A new report from climate think tank Ember shows that renewables generated 40% of the EU-27’s electricity in the first half of 2020, outperforming fossil fuels (34%) for the first time. As a result, power sector CO2 emissions fell 23%.
Renewable generation rose by 11% in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period last year. This was driven by growth in wind and solar (up 11% and 16% respectively), with new installations and favourable conditions during a mild and windy start to the year. Wind and solar have seen unprecedented market shares this year, generating 21% of Europe’s total electricity and reaching even higher penetration in Denmark (64%), Ireland (49%) and Germany (42%).
In comparison, hydro generated 13% of Europe’s electricity, rising by 12% compared to the same period last year due to wetter conditions in Nordic and Iberian regions. Bioenergy generated 6% of Europe’s electricity in H1-2020, however a small fraction of this (<15%) is generated by burning forest biomass to replace coal in power stations which should not be assumed to deliver the same climate benefits as renewables such as wind and solar. Despite this caveat, renewables – particularly wind and solar – have demonstrated their resilience, even during a crisis.
With steady growth in renewables generation, the market share remaining for fossil fuels was already being squeezed. This year the fossil industry was dealt a double blow, as the COVID-19 crisis saw a 7% drop in electricity demand that left them with even less to compete over. This resulted in an 18% drop in fossil fuel generation in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period last year.
As the most expensive source of electricity, coal took the brunt of this, falling by 32%, with hard coal generation falling by 34% and lignite (brown coal) falling by 29% compared to the same period last year. Coal generated just 12% of the EU-27’s electricity in the first half of 2020. Even gas generation registered a fall of 6%.
German coal was hardest hit, with generation collapsing 39%. For the first time, Germany produced less coal-fired electricity than Poland. Poland now generates as much coal-fired electricity as the remaining 25 EU countries (excluding Germany) combined, and unlike most other countries, including Germany, Poland does not have a plan to phase out coal. Its transition remains key for a carbon-neutral Europe.
Ember’s Senior Analyst, Dave Jones, said:
“This marks a symbolic moment in the transition of Europe’s electricity sector. For countries like Poland and Czechia grappling with how to get off coal, there is now a clear way out. The new European Green Deal will provide both new investment into wind and solar and also a route away from coal through the expanded Just Transition fund. This would help complete Europe’s transition from coal to clean electricity.”