New renewables generation sharply increased in the EU last year, with wind, solar and biomass overtaking coal for the first time. This is in stark contrast to five years ago, when coal generation was more than twice that of those technologies.

But research from Sandbag & Agora Energiewende shows that renewables progress has become “more uneven” across the continent, with the UK and Germany alone contributing to 56% of the growth past three years. Of the rise in renewable generation for EU28, the UK was responsible for 22% of the rise from 2014 to 2017.

Mixed picture

There was a big 19% increase in wind generation in Europe last year, but the bad news is that solar was responsible for just 14% of renewables growth between in the past four years.

And while 2017 saw the UK reduce its electricity demand by around 2%, there was a 0.7% rise across the whole of Europe, marking a third year of consecutive rises.

Sandbag coal analyst and report author Dave Jones said: “Our study gives a very mixed picture: EU renewables has been increasingly reliant on the success story of wind in the Germany, UK and Denmark, which has been inspiring. But other countries need to do more.

“Solar deployment is surprisingly low, and needs to respond to the massive falls in costs. And with electricity consumption rising for the third year, countries need to reassess their efforts on energy efficiency.”

Britain increased its share of wind, solar and biomass from 8% in 2010 to 27% in 2017. This was only beaten by Denmark which rose by 42% to reach a remarkable 74% by the end of last year.

The report also highlights the speed with which the UK is phasing out coal – again in contrast to Germany. Since 2010, Britain has reduced its coal burn for electricity by 22% to 7%, while coal output in Germany only fell by 5% to 37% during the same period.

Western Europe is making strides in phasing out coal, the study notes, with Netherlands, Italy and Portugal all committing to phase-outs in 2017, but Eastern Europe is sticking to it.

UK advances

Britain achieved its ‘greenest year ever’ in 2017 thanks to 13 new records across the clean energy sector. Major highlights in 2017 include the greenest summer ever, as well as the first ever working day without coal power generation since the Industrial Revolution. Last year also saw low-carbon sources reach a record-high share of the UK’s electricity mix and an all-time low cost of offshore wind.

Earlier this month, the UK Government lowered its projection for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

But there is still cause for concern at a domestic level. New figures released earlier this month showed that nvestment in clean energy plunged further in Britain than in any other country last year because of government policy changes.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie