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Major Milestone: renewable energy sources supply more energy than coal in 2017

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

The year 2017 will be the first year on record when renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind, solar and biomass outperform electricity production from coal in the EU.

In 2017, wind, sun and biomass, in the European Union have for the first time delivered more electricity than hard coal and lignite combined. Electricity generation from these “new renewables”, which only really saw large-scale uptake beginning in 2000, grew by 12% last year. Since 2010, the share of wind, solar and biomass electricity in the EU has more than doubled. However, because hydropower production fell sharply in 2017, renewable electricity only achieved a slightly higher share in the EU than in the previous year, rising from 29.8 to 30.0 percent of electricity production. This is shown by analysis of two think tanks: Sandbag from Great Britain and Agora Energiewende from Germany. The authors of the study have compiled and evaluated public data from numerous sources.

The analysis also shows that the share of renewables in the various EU countries is growing very unevenly. In the past three years, for example, the United Kingdom and Germany have contributed to more than half of the increase in renewables - wind energy in particular is playing a major role here. In Germany, in 2017, 30% of the electricity was generated from wind, solar and biomass, and 28% in the United Kingdom. The strongest percentage growth was recorded in Denmark: in 2017, 74% of the electricity produced there came from wind, solar and biomass, a rise of 7%. The strong growth in a few countries is contrasted with very low growth in many other EU countries: anaemic growth throughout the decade can be observed in Slovenia, Bulgaria, France, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Other countries had good growth at the start of the decade, but then gave up on renewables with almost no growth in the last three years, like Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Greece. Exceptions are Croatia and Romania, where the share of power from wind, solar and biomass has been growing since 2011 from low single digits to 18% (Croatia) and 16% (Romania), respectively. Six countries still had less than 10% of their electricity production from wind, solar and biomass in 2017: these are Slovenia (4%), Bulgaria (7%), France (8%), Slovakia (8%), Czech Republic (8%) and Hungary (10%).

On fossil energy, the development is mixed. Hard coal power generation fell by 7% because of higher wind generation, and with coal phase-outs announced in Netherlands, Italy and Portugal, hard coal generation will continue to fall. However, lignite generation rose slightly, and retirements are scant; meaning the route away from lignite is far from assured.

Despite the increase in wind and solar energy, the CO2 emissions of the European electricity sector did not fall in 2017, remaining stable at 1,019 million tonnes. A combination of three factors has led to this:

1. the production of electricity from hydropower has fallen to a Europe-wide low, mainly due to low rainfall and snowfall.

2. nuclear power plants in France and Germany delivered less electricity than in previous years

3. electricity consumption in the European Union has grown for the third year in a row by 0.7% in 2017.

"Progress on renewables has been increasingly reliant on the success story of wind in the UK and Germany, which has been inspiring. They demonstrate that if all countries in Europe engage in the energy transition, 35% renewable energy by 2030 is entirely feasible. Solar deployment, however, is surprisingly low and needs to increase in line with the massive fall in costs", says Matthias Buck, Director of European Energy Policy at Agora Energiewende.  "And with electricity consumption rising for the third year, countries need to reassess their efforts on energy efficiency, " adds Sandbag analyst Dave Jones. "But to make the biggest difference to emissions, countries need to retire coal plants. We forecast Europe’s 258 operational coal plants last year emitted 38% of all emissions under the Emissions Trading System, or 15% of total EU greenhouse gases. " In 2017, Netherlands, Italy and Portugal added their names to the list of countries to phase-out coal. "This is great. We need a fast and complete coal phase-out in Europe: the thought of charging electric cars in the 2030’s with coal just doesn’t compute ", says Jones.

In order to achieve the EU's 2030 renewable energy target, the EU will need to increase its efforts in deploying renewables in the coming years compared to recent trends. "Especially in Central and South-Eastern Europe, but also in Spain and Greece, much more is possible because the climatic conditions favour renewable energies," says Buck.

Tags: #renewableenergy #climate #sustainablebusiness

Source of original article: https://www.agora-energiewende.de/en/press/agoranews/news-detail/news/2017-marks-the-first-year-in-which-more-electricity-in-europe-was-generated-from-wind-sun-and-biomass-than-from-coal-1/News/detail/ and https://www.duurzaambedrijfsleven.nl/energie/27071/mijlpaal-duurzame-energiebronnen-leverden-meer-elektriciteit-dan-kolen-in-2017?utm_source=nieuwsbrief&utm_medium=e-mail&utm_campaign=Daily%20Focus%202%20Februari&usertoken=1488814142bm71pjoQeL1yhIHTHw1xKasAVR4DFLdi1S5MPIsuBJhMPTeadMyEGYRixRTmYGPN (in Dutch)

The full report The European Power Sector 2017 and the data can be found here.

Image source: Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

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