Home Green Energy Wind produced more EU electricity than gas for first time in 2023

Wind produced more EU electricity than gas for first time in 2023

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An unprecedented collapse in European Union 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.

The EU’s shift away from fossil fuels was evident 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.

“The EU’s power sector is in the middle of a monumental shift,” said Ember’s Europe programme director, Sarah Brown. “Fossil fuels are playing a smaller role than ever as a system with wind and solar as its backbone comes into view.”

Record low fossil fuels as wind and solar keep climbing

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.

Martin Hojsík MEP, Vice President of European Parliament (Renew Europe, Progressive Slovakia) said: “Europe’s economy is transitioning from fossil fuels to clean power in front of our eyes. While some countries are racing to deploy more wind and solar as a social and economic opportunity, others, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, are lagging and stand to miss out.

“The continent’s competitiveness is on the line. The EU must ensure it just transitions to clean power as a whole and quickly, not only to reap the benefits of the energy transition, but also to shield itself from security risks related to imported fossil fuel.”

In addition to clean growth, falling electricity demand also contributed to the drop in fossil fuel generation. Demand fell by 3.4% (-94 TWh) in 2023 compared to 2022. This marked a 6.4% (-186 TWh) fall from 2021 levels when the energy crisis began, with just over a third (38%) attributed to a reduction in industrial electricity consumption. This rate of demand fall is not expected to be repeated in the coming years as electrification increases.

“As electrification takes off through more heat pumps, electric vehicles and electrolysers, the EU will enter a new era of rising electricity demand,” said Ember’s global global insights director Dave Jones. “Renewables will need to keep pace with that demand increase in order to deliver the emissions cuts needed for a safe climate.”

Still, faster rollout needed for EU targets

To meet EU targets, wind and solar growth needs to be accelerating. The REPowerEU plan foresees 55% of power from wind and solar by 2030, nearly doubling from 27% in 2023. Solar grew by a substantial 56 GW of additional capacity in 2023, compared to 41 GW in 2022.

But it failed to match its 2022 year-on-year generation growth. And while wind generation growth was strong in 2023 at 13%, it needs to increase by 15% every year until 2030 to meet REPowerEU targets.

“We can’t afford to be complacent about growth. 2023 brought a new solar record, but integrating solar into the system is still more of a challenge than it needs to be. Policymakers and system operators must work to ensure that the grid is ready to absorb solar generation, maximise the potential of grid-intelligent solar, and ultimately decarbonise the system,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe.

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.

Ember’s Europe’s Brown said that the energy crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine did not lead to coal and gas resurgence.

“Coal is nearing phase-out, and as wind and solar grow, gas will be next to enter terminal decline. However, it is not time to get complacent. The EU needs a laser focus on rapidly deploying wind, solar and flexibility to create a system free of fossil fuels’ risks,” she said.

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