Report: Clean electricity accounted for record two-thirds of EU's generation mix for first half of 2021
Renewables and nuclear power accounted for a record 66% of electricity production across the EU during the first half of 2021, with clean energy proving far more resilient to the pandemic than fossil fuels.
That is according to a new analysis from climate think-tank Ember; the latest in a series of bi-annual updates on electricity generation and demand in the EU.
Ember’s figures show that nuclear and renewable generation accounted for 66% of electricity generation across the bloc between January and June 2021, up from 63% during the first half of 2019 – the previous record. Renewables took a 39% generation share and nuclear a 27% share.
The uptick in clean energy generation was largely due to wind and solar, which collectively saw a 9% increase in output. Solar output grew more rapidly than wind, predominantly due to poor weather conditions for wind generation.
Within the same timeframe, coal’s generation share dropped from 16% to 14%. Natural gas did not experience such a steep drop in generation share, but, overall, fossil electricity generation in the EU for H1 of 2021 stood at around half of the levels seen in H1 of 2019.
These trends have resulted in a lower-carbon electricity mix. Ember claims that emissions from electricity generation in the first half of 2021 were 12% lower than in the first half of 2019. In other words, emissions have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. This is even though energy demand across the EU has largely rebounded and is now just 0.6% below pre-pandemic levels.
The hope, of course, is that a rebound in emissions can be prevented in the longer term, with an increase in energy demand being met with low-carbon sources. The EU recently built on its 2050 net-zero goal with a package of policy changes designed to deliver a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030, against a 1990 baseline. One of the targets in this package, called ‘Fit for 55’, is for renewable energy to account for 40% of final consumption in 2030, up from 20% in 2019.
While celebrating the progress made, Ember’s conclusion is that it is, ultimately, not rapid enough to put the bloc on track to meet its own climate targets. The think-tank believes that year-on-year progress in increasing clean power’s share of the generation mix will need to happen at double the speed seen here, through to 2030.
Ember is emphasising that the cost of accelerating progress is continually falling; it states that, on average across the EU, it costs around twice as much to generate electricity from existing gas and goal plants than from new large-scale wind or solar farms.
“Now the pandemic effect on the power sector has passed, the overall trend is clear: fossil fuels are in rapid decline as Europe cleans up its power sector,” Ember’s European programme lead Charles Moore said. “But progress is nowhere near fast enough to meet the EU’s own emissions target, let alone reach 100% clean electricity by 2035.”
The latest analysis of the energy generation and consumption mix in the UK was published last month by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS).
BEIS’s latest Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) revealed that the proportion of the energy mix accounted for by renewables reached a record 43.1% for 2020. When nuclear and other low-carbon energies are added, 59.3% of the generation mix is accounted for.
At the same time, the proportion of fossil fuels in the energy mix reached a record low in 2020, dropping to 37.7%. As in Europe, coal declined more rapidly than natural gas and has not recovered as well. The UK is mandating that all coal-fired power plants come offline by the end of October 2024, with the last closure set for September 2024.