BRUSSELS – European coal-fuelled power generation climbed last year as countries scrambled to replace Russian gas, but the increase was smaller than feared as renewable energy helped to plug the gap, researchers said on Tuesday.
Russia, Europe’s former top gas supplier, slashed deliveries to the European Union following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, plunging the 27-country bloc into a crisis of scarce energy supplies and soaring power prices.
As a result, coal power’s share of EU electricity generation rose by 1.5 percentage points in 2022, to account for 16% of annual generation, think-tank Ember said in a report.
That was the fuel’s highest share in EU power generation since 2018, although it was smaller than the 20% share of gas, 22% combined share from wind and solar and 32% from hydropower and nuclear, Ember said.
Outright coal generation in the EU increased by 7%, or 28 terawatt hours (TWh), in 2022, pushing up power sector CO2 emissions by nearly 4%.
Ember said the return to the most polluting fossil fuel “could have been much worse”. Increased generation from wind and solar, plus an overall drop in EU power use amid mild weather and as consumers struggled with high prices, prevented a bigger coal rebound, it said.
“There would need to be another (energy) crisis (in 2023) to reach higher coal generation than in 2022,” Ember’s head of data insights Dave Jones said.
EU solar generation increased by a record 24%, or 39 TWh, last year – helping to fill a supply gap exacerbated by French nuclear plants being idled for maintenance, and a climate change-fuelled drought that cut hydropower output.
The EU has said any uptick in coal use will be short-lived, and that countries should largely replace Russian gas using green energy and energy savings.
Countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, are also expanding infrastructure to import more non-Russian gas, raising concerns among climate activists that this could lock in decades of fossil fuel demand.
As part of plans to speed up Europe’s shift to clean energy, EU countries and lawmakers are negotiating a more ambitious renewable energy target for 2030, covering sectors including transport and industry, as well as electricity.
The EU Parliament and countries including Germany, Denmark and Spain, want a 45% renewables goal, while Hungary and Romania are among those seeking a lower 40%. The EU got 22% of its overall energy from renewables in 2021, the latest Eurostat data show.
“Top down policies are almost lagging behind what you are seeing on the ground (with solar generation), with citizens and businesses going out and doing it themselves,” Jones added.