Record fall in UK and EU power sector emissions in 2023

  • London

  • 7 February 2024

Record wind power in the UK, with the cleanest power sector ever in 2023

[Brussels, 7 February 2024] An unprecedented collapse in EU coal and gas electricity generation in 2023 led to a record drop in power sector emissions, according to the European Electricity Review published today by think tank Ember. UK power sector emissions also fell by a record 16% in 2023, slightly below the EU’s decline of 19%, as wind hit record highs.

Europe is entering a new era of energy transition, with the cleanest power sectors ever in the UK and the EU last year. Cheap and homegrown wind power now provides well over a quarter of the UK’s electricity. Fossil fuels are playing a smaller role than ever as a system with wind and solar as its backbone comes into view.

Sarah Brown Ember’s Europe programme director
EU shifts away from fossil fuel power

The EU’s shift away from fossil fuels was evident in 2023 with record drops in coal generation (-26%) as well as gas (-15%). This led to the largest decline on record for EU power sector emissions too (-19%), as wind and solar grew and electricity demand fell. Renewables continued to increase as wind power generation (18%) overtook gas (17%) for the first time in 2023. 

Fossil generation plummeted by a record 19% in 2023, accounting for less than a third of EU power for the first time. Coal fell by 26% to its lowest ever level at 333 TWh, or 12% of the EU’s electricity generation. Coal’s decline did not result in a rise in gas, which instead fell by 15%, the largest annual reduction since at least 1990 and the fourth consecutive year of gas generation decline. 

In contrast, wind and solar combined achieved their highest ever year-on-year increases in both generation and installed capacity, at 90 TWh and 73 GW. Together they produced a record 27% of EU electricity in 2023 — above a quarter for the first time. Wind generated 18% of EU power, or 475 TWh, equivalent to France’s total generation demand. Solar continued its strong growth to generate 9% EU electricity (246 TWh). Overall renewables rose to a record 44% share of EU power in 2023, as hydro power also recovered from lows in 2022.

Ember’s analysis showed the EU continued its shift towards a system powered by wind and solar as 24% of hours in 2023 saw less than a quarter of electricity coming from fossil fuels, a major step up from just 4% of hours in 2022. Accordingly, there was increased attention on system-wide enablers for wind and solar growth in 2023, such as grids, storage and demand side response. 

Drop in UK power sector emissions as wind hits records

Like the EU, the UK also saw power sector emissions fall, with a 16% decrease driven by record wind generation of 82 TWh and a significant drop in gas generation of 20% (-25 TWh). Demand also fell by 2% to 317 TWh in 2023, its lowest level since 1989.

Wind and solar accounted for a record third (33%) of UK electricity generation in 2023 — the highest combined levels ever, up from 29% in 2022. With the fall in gas generation, this pushed clean power over the 60% share mark for the first time. This was due to wind achieving a record generation share of 28%, on par with Germany and only surpassed in the EU by Denmark, Ireland and Portugal. Solar power accounted for just 4.6% of UK electricity, half the EU average of 9.1%.

Despite this step forward for the UK’s clean power transition, 2023 also brought challenges. September’s offshore wind auction failed to secure any bids, a threat to the UK’s target of 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030. This resulted from the maximum Contracts for Difference strike price (£44 per megawatt hour) failing to account for increased costs. However, the government has taken steps to address this, with an announcement in November that the strike price for the next auction would be increased by 66%

Ember’s analysis highlights that in the EU, flexibility mechanisms such as grids, storage, and demand side response are gaining increasing attention as wind and solar grow. The UK is a leading example when it comes to demand side flexibility. National Grid ESO ran its first Demand Flexibility Service from November 2022 to March 2023, during which time households and businesses saved 3.3 GWh of electricity, enough to power 10 million homes.