EU Power Sector 2019

Annual review of the European electricity transition shows that for the first time wind and solar power overtook coal.

Dave Jones

Global Programme Lead

5 February 2020 | 3 min read

Highlights

18%


Share of wind and solar in EU electricity in 2019

15%


Share of coal in EU electricity in 2019

Executive summary

Coal collapses, overtaken by wind and solar

  • 01


    Coal generation collapsed by 24% in the EU in 2019.

    Hard coal generation dropped by 32%, while lignite decreased by 16%. This development is driven by CO₂ price increases and deployment of renewables. Gas replaced around half of the coal, solar and wind the other half. The decline of coal will continue: Greece and Hungary both made commitments in 2019 to phase out coal, bringing the total of member states phasing out coal to 15. Only Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia are yet to start.

  • 02


    The fall in coal means CO₂ emissions in Europe’s power sector fell by a record 120 Mt, or 12% in 2019.

    This is likely to be the largest ever fall. EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) stationary emissions, including heavy industry, fell by 7.6% in 2019, implying that industrial emissions are likely to have decreased by only 1%. Nevertheless, overall emissions covered by the EU ETS are falling much faster than the cap; showing the central role of a further strengthening of the EU ETS to accelerate climate action in Europe.

  • 03


    Renewables rose to a new record supplying 35% of EU electricity.

    For the first time, wind and solar combined provided more electricity than coal, contributing 18% of EU electricity in 2019. This is more than a doubling of market share since 2013. The increase in wind and solar generation was strongest in western Europe, while Poland and Greece have started to engage. The rest of eastern Europe is significantly lagging behind. The economic opportunities of low-cost renewables became increasingly visible. 2019 saw record low auction prices for offshore wind (UK) and solar (Portugal) – below wholesale prices – and the largest wholesale price decreases in countries where wind and solar expanded most.

Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar, and as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly. 30% of all global fossil emissions still come from coal generation – so it’s critical that there is an urgent focus to transition away from coal in all countries. Europe has become a test-bed for replacing coal with wind & solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.

Dave Jones Electricity Analyst, Ember

Key findings

EU Electricity Trends in 2019

For the first time, wind and solar provided more electricity than coal


In 2019, wind and solar provided 18% (569TWh) of EU electricity, whilst coal fell to just 15% (469TWh). Only five years ago, the EU generated twice as much from coal as it did from wind and solar.

Electricity generation from coal collapsed


In just one year, coal generation fell 24% in the European Union, and is now less than half the level in 2007. This led to a 12% fall in European power sector CO2 emissions in 2019 alone – the biggest fall since at least 1990.

Many countries in western Europe saw significantly larger year-on-year falls while eastern Europe lagged behind. Half of the coal was replaced by wind & solar, and half was replaced with gas. Wind and solar generation rose because of new capacity installations, and gas generation rose as higher CO2 prices and low gas prices boosted the competitiveness of gas power plants in relation to coal generation.

The countries with the biggest increase in wind & solar, saw the biggest falls in coal


From 2010 to 2019, coal’s share of the electricity mix fell by 10 percentage points, while wind and solar combined rose by 13 percentage points.Europe’s transition avoided a bridge into gas: despite the uptick in gas generation in 2019, gas’s share is still 1 percentage point lower in 2019 than in 2010, and only 7GW of new gas plants have come online in Europe since 2014.

Europe’s coal to clean transition looks set to accelerate


In 2019, wind capacity is estimated to have expanded by around 14GW, the second-highest amount on record, and solar by around 17GW, double last year’s rate.

Meanwhile, the economics continued to shift in favour of renewables over fossil: 2019 saw record-low auction prices for offshore wind (UK) and solar (Portugal) – both below wholesale prices. Looking ahead, the wind and solar trade associations in Europe predict that the rate of new installations will accelerate.

In 2019, two more European countries committed to phase-out coal


Greece and Hungary will cease generating electricity from coal by 2028 and 2030 respectively, bringing the total countries coal-free by 2030 to 20 out of 28 countries. 2019 also saw the formation of Czechia’s Coal Commission, tasked with setting an end-date for coal.

Coal phase-out dates and remaining coal capacities

Conclusion

Europe’s energy transition is taking off

The European Green Deal has put the fight against the climate crisis at the very core of all EU policy work over the next five years: EU heads of state have endorsed Europe to become the first greenhouse gas neutral continent by 2050, and the EU commission is putting forward proposals to raise Europe’s 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target to -50% or -55% below 1990 levels. This implies power sector emissions will keep falling, even if electricity demand increases as transport, heating industry continue to electrify.