Fossil fuels accounted for just 33% of the European Union’s power generation during the first half of the current year, marking the lowest share on record according to data stretching back to 1990. This decline was primarily attributed to a decrease in electricity demand, enabling a greater portion of electricity needs to be met by the growing output from renewable energy sources. A combination of mild weather conditions, energy-saving policies, and elevated gas and power prices due to Russia’s reduction of gas supplies to Europe in the previous year prompted industries and consumers to curtail their energy consumption. In fact, the EU’s power demand from January to June exhibited a 4.6% decline compared to the same period in 2022, and the 33% of electricity generated from fossil fuels marked a decrease from the 38% registered in the equivalent time frame of the previous year.
Across the 27 member states of the EU, fossil fuel-based power production plummeted by 17% in the first half of the year compared to the same period in the preceding year. Coal, the most carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuel, experienced the most significant drop. In May, coal’s contribution to EU electricity generation was less than 10%, a milestone unprecedented in history. Although there was a less pronounced decline in gas-powered electricity generation, as EU nations adopted alternative sources to replace Russian gas, the fall in fossil fuel utilization was evident.
Simultaneously, the deployment of clean energy sources like wind farms and solar panels continued to expand. However, despite wind and solar collectively contributing 23 terawatt-hours more power in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in the previous year, the think tank Ember underscored the urgency for enhancing the integration of renewables into power grids. This urgency arises from instances where countries, such as Spain and Poland, have had to curtail solar power due to grid congestion or economic considerations, a measure sometimes preferred over shutting down fossil fuel-based power plants.
Ember analyst Chris Rosslowe emphasized the presence of “hot-spots of grid congestion and renewables curtailment.” He proposed that one rapid solution to this challenge is the accelerated deployment of grid storage systems, particularly battery storage projects, which can be rapidly constructed.
The first half of the year also saw a recovery in hydropower generation compared to the lows experienced the previous year due to drought conditions, while nuclear power output registered a marginal decline year-on-year. This shift away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy sources reflects a significant step towards achieving the European Union’s climate goals and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It underscores the increasing feasibility of transitioning towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy landscape. While challenges such as grid integration and energy storage remain to be addressed, the ongoing progress in renewable energy adoption signifies a positive trajectory for the EU’s energy sector.
Writing by Moe Khaled; Editing by Sarah White