EU achieves historic renewables milestone this winter during energy crisis

  • Brussels

  • 27 April 2023

Drop in power demand during ‘crisis winter’ prevented return to fossil fuels

New analysis from energy think tank Ember reveals that renewables generated more of the EU’s electricity than fossil fuels over winter for the first time despite crisis conditions, as a significant 7% demand decrease led fossil fuel generation to drop 12% compared to the previous winter. Renewables produced 40% of EU electricity over the winter period (October 2022 – March 2023), with fossil fuels at 37%. 

Europe faced a crisis winter, with spiralling energy costs and supply concerns triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The EU got through those difficult months, but it can’t rely on emergency demand cuts and mild weather for future years,” said Ember analyst Dr. Chris Rosslowe, “To keep power supply stable, the EU needs to divorce from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Coal and gas generation both decreased compared to the previous winter. Coal power fell by 11% (-27 TWh) and gas by 13% (-38 TWh), contrary to fears that EU countries might turn to coal generation as the EU moved to cut ties with Russian gas. This drop in fossil fuels was due in large part to the 7% fall in EU electricity demand (-94 TWh), as fossil fuel prices remained high. Coal and gas generation would have declined further if not for extended outages in France’s nuclear fleet.

15 out of the 18 remaining EU coal power countries decreased coal generation over winter. The EU’s largest coal power countries, Poland and Germany, made up 70% of the reduction in EU coal this winter with 4 TWh and 9 TWh falls respectively. Coal reached a new low in the Polish electricity mix in February 2023, falling below two thirds of generation for the first time. Portugal saw the largest percentage drop in coal generation as the country phased out its only remaining coal plant in winter 2021.

Widespread cuts to EU power demand saves electricity worth €12bn over winter

Nearly every EU Member State reduced electricity demand over winter, although only Romania, Slovakia and Greece achieved the voluntary 10% reduction target set by emergency EU legislation for between November and March. Across the EU, the 6.2% reduction in demand across those months (compared to the five year average) saved electricity worth €12 billion euros. 

These demand reductions can be partly attributed to higher than average temperatures across Europe in winter, which reduced the demand for electric heating. However, government energy saving measures and citizen action also played a part, with some reductions voluntary acts of solidarity, and others forced by cost. 

EU countries also had success in reducing electricity demand in peak times, with the majority complying with the EU’s mandatory target to reduce power consumption during peak hours by 5%. Only one country, Ireland, recorded an increase in demand during peak hours, on average.