Half way there - 50% of Europe's coal plants on track for 2030 closure

Half way there

50% of Europe's coal plants on track for 2030 closure

Grace Alster

23 March 2021 | < 1 min read

Today it was announced by Europe Beyond Coal that half of the coal units in Europe that were operating when the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2016 will be closed by 2030. This is a great milestone, but as coal collapses Europe’s leadership needs to wake up and plan for a greener future.

Milestone reached

In 2016, there were 324 coal plants in Europe. Today’s announcement by EDF that their 2GW plant West Burton A will close in 2022 is the 162nd retirement announcement since then. This means that in just 5 years, half of Europe’s coal fleet has made plans to close before 2030.

Terminal decline

It’s not hard to see why: coal generation has halved within the EU since 2015 due to competition with wind and solar, with the impact of Covid-19 further accelerating coal’s decline in 2020. The falling cost of renewable power generation alongside an increasing carbon price has made coal uncompetitive, with the result that in many countries coal plants have lost running hours and often rely on government subsidies to make a profit. While coal generation could rebound from the effects of covid over the next year, increasing renewable capacity over the next decade will only continue to eat into coal‘s running time. As Europe recovers from the pandemic, it has the opportunity to step up renewables deployment to replace coal and achieve a 2030 EU-wide coal phase-out.

Ignoring the evidence

Despite this, our analysis of EU National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) shows that  European countries plan for 282TWh of coal generation in 2030. That is only a 23% decrease in the next 10 years, when the last 5 years have seen a 50% fall.

Around 90% of the remaining coal is planned by three countries, Germany, Poland & Czechia. We recently showed that Poland alone plans to exceed the EU’s upper limit for coal power by 2030, even under its high ambition scenario.

If coal generation continued to collapse at the same pace as the last five years, it would hit zero by 2026. In comparison NECPs show coal generation barely declining. This means that even though further plant closures are likely, they have not been adequately planned for as governments try to protect jobs by supporting the industry.

Clinging on to coal

However, continuing to burn coal will lead to Europe missing its climate goals. In order to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree target, European coal generation must end by 2030, while the EU’s  -55% emissions target necessitates 55TWh of coal generation by the same date. The use of coal above this amount will lead in the long run to a high environmental cost. Even if coal jobs are saved, the communities supported by them will suffer health and economic consequences, along with the wider economy.

Moving Forward

The transition away from coal is well underway. Half of the coal plants operating in 2016 have closed or announced that they will close by 2030. Generation from coal has already halved, and wind and solar growth will only continue to make coal more uncompetitive. Europe’s remaining coal countries should plan to smooth the transition by investing in green jobs, rather than propping up a dying industry and damaging the climate in the process.