Solar and wind power generated a fifth of Europe’s electricity in 2022, overtaking gas for the first time, according to the European Electricity Review 2023. The EU’s REPowerEU plan aims to increase the share of renewables in final energy consumption overall to 45% by the end of the decade.
The European Electricity Review revealed that solar and wind power generated more than a fifth (22%) of its electricity in 2022, pulling ahead of fossil gas (20%) for the first time. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Europe also managed to avoid resorting to emissions-intensive coal power for electricity generation as a consequence of the energy crisis. Coal generated just 16% of the EU’s electricity last year, an increase of just 1.5 percentage points.
A report by energy think tank Ember shows that the EU’s green energy transition is making an important difference. The think tank’s analysis revealed that the EU faced a “triple crisis” in the electricity sector in 2022. “Just as Europe scrambled to cut ties with its biggest supplier of fossil gas, it faced the lowest levels of hydro and nuclear (power) in at least two decades, which created a deficit equal to 7% of Europe’s total electricity demand in 2022,” the report says. Some of the causes included: severe drought across Europe, French nuclear outages, and the closure of German nuclear outlets.
The Netherlands and Greece generated more power from solar than coal for the first time.Ember
According to the WEF, there was a surge in solar and wind power generation, which helped compensate for the nuclear and hydro-power deficit. Solar power rose the fastest, growing by a record 24% last year which almost doubled its previous record, with wind growing by 8.6%.
Forty-one gigawatts of solar power capacity was added in 2022, almost 50% more than the year before. Ember says that 20 EU countries achieved new solar records in 2022, with Germany, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and France adding the most solar capacity. Greece is also predicted to reach its 2030 solar capacity target by the end of this year.
The WEF reports that in Europe there was significant drop in electricity use in 2022, which helped lessen the impact of E energy crisis. Demand fell by 7.9% in the last quarter of the year, despite the continent heading into winter. This was close to the 9.6% fall experienced when Europe was in lockdown in mid-2020.
1. Fossil fuel generation expected to fall in 2023
Europe’s use of solar and wind power will continue to accelerate in 2023 and hydro-power and French nuclear capacity will also recover, according to Ember. With electricity demand likely to continue to fall, it estimates that fossil fuel-generation “could plummet” by 20% in 2023.
Ember forecasts that gas generation will fall the fastest as it will remain more expensive than coal over the next few years. “The large fall in gas generation means the power sector is likely to be the fastest falling segment of gas demand during 2023, helping to bring calm to European gas markets as Europe adjusts to life without Russian gas.”
2. Coal power in the EU continues to go down
The almost 8% fall in electricity demand in the last three months of 2022 was the main factor in the 9% fall in gas and coal generation during that time. According to Ember, if France’s nuclear plants been operating at the same capacity as 2021, the EU’s fossil fuel generation would have fallen twice as fast in the last quarter of 2022.
“Coal power in the EU fell in all four of the final months of 2022, down 6% year-on-year,” the report states. “The 26 coal units placed on emergency standby for winter ran at an average of just 18% capacity. Despite importing 22 million tonnes of extra coal throughout 2022, the EU only used a third of it.”
Gas generation was very similar compared to 2021, up just 0.8%. It made up 20% of the EU electricity mix in 2022, up from 19% the year before.