Europe’s Electricity Demand Roars Back, Driving Up Coal Generation

European coal generation has reached its highest level since March – down just 2TWh year-on-year – as EU electricity demand roars back.

Euan Graham

11 September 2020 | 12 min read

Executive summary

Demand and coal up

European coal generation has reached its highest level since March – down just 2TWh year-on-year – as EU electricity demand roars back.

Although we would normally expect a year-on-year fall in fossil as new wind and solar are built, French nuclear problems mean that fossil generation is holding up.

This shows that reductions in power sector emissions due to COVID-19 were short-lived, and the need for new wind and solar investment is as urgent as ever.

Analysis

EU Electricity Trends to August 2020

EU electricity demand roars back


Demand levels are nearly back to a year ago. In the EU-27, electricity demand was only 2% below last year’s level for August, compared to April when it was down 13%. In fact demand was even up by 6% in Slovakia, 4% in the Netherlands, and down by only 1% in France and Poland. In Germany demand is still down by 3% compared to last year, although it is gradually recovering.

Gap left by French nuclear is filled by fossil


Despite the uptick in demand, French nuclear output has not returned back to normal, lingering at record low levels, still 5TWh down vs. August 2019. This leaves a big gap in European power supply that is being made up by fossil generation – mostly from outside France as French electricity exports plummeted year-on-year.

Even though we saw resilient year-on-year growth of wind and solar throughout the pandemic, it is not enough to meet the shortfall left by the drop in nuclear generation. This means that fossil generation has been able to return to similar levels as last year as demand has picked up to 2019 levels.

EU coal generation at highest level since March


This reliance on fossil generation meant that coal generation in the EU-27 rose to 27TWh in August, its highest level since March, with Germany being the main driver, increasing from 8TWh in July to 10TWh in August. Across the EU-27, coal generation in August was only down by around 2TWh compared to August 2019.

With Germany seeing the largest increase in coal generation in August, it overtook Poland as the EU’s largest coal generator for the first time since February. Both countries each continue to generate more than the remaining EU-27 countries combined.

Conclusion

What next?

As demand recovers, clean energy infrastructure and investment need to be protected to ensure that the momentum of the EU’s coal phase-out isn’t lost.

The need for new wind and solar investment is as urgent as ever.