2022 EU Electricity Generation from Fossil Fuels Lowest in History

2022 EU electricity generation from Fossil fuels is at the lowest levels since records have been kept.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

2022 EU electricity generation from Fossil fuels is at the lowest levels since records have been kept. Image Unsplash.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

2022 EU electricity generation from Fossil fuels is at the lowest levels since records have been kept.

New data reveals that 2022 EU electricity generation burned the least amount of fossil fuels for electricity generation since records began. Across the 27 member states, coal, natural gas, and oil accounted for just 15% of total electricity generated over the year, according to think tank Ember’s EU Energy Transition 2023 report. This marks a dramatic decline from a 90% fossil fuel share of the EU’s power mix in 1990.

The phase-out of coal and the rise of renewables drove most of the transition away from carbon-intensive sources. Wind, solar, hydro, and other zero-emission sources generated nearly 45% of the EU’s electricity in 2022. That’s almost triple their share in 2010 and a new high. The surge in renewables enabled fossil fuels to be displaced at an unprecedented pace.

Ember’s data shows the EU reduced its annual coal-fired generation by a staggering 149 terawatt-hours (TWh) in just two years. In 2022, coal generation plummeted to 427 TWh, half of what it was in 2020 and the lowest in modern records. Just ten years ago, coal provided over a quarter of the power consumed in the EU.

The 2022 EU electricity generation fossil decline came as carbon prices quintupled, making coal unprofitable. Countries are also phasing out coal power by mandate – a rush to exit coal by 2030 is underway across much of Western Europe. Heavy shifts off coal in Germany and Spain accounted for over half the EU’s drop in 2022.

Natural gas also fell to its lowest share in electricity generation last year. The 11% gas share was down from a peak of 23% in 2010, as surging wind and solar squeezed its space in power markets. Higher gas prices after Russia’s supply cuts further dampened electricity use.

Experts say the accelerating exit from fossil fuels is fundamentally and permanently reshaping Europe’s power sector. The dramatic percentage drops in coal and natural gas generation make the next incremental shifts away from carbon-intensive sources progressively easier and more irreversible. There are clear compounding effects and positive feedback loops as fossil fuels decline.

For example, as coal plants increasingly sit idle or shut down entirely, the economic motivations grow to accelerate closures and avoid reopening them. Utilities make workforce transitions rather than reinvesting in soon-to-be stranded assets. The surviving plants operate less efficiently as designed, making them less competitive. New low-carbon entrants seize market share, and institutional knowledge of fossil plant operations begins fading away.

In essence, the physics and economics underpinning the power sector transform with each percentage drop in fossil fuel reliance. The EU emitted 21% less CO2 in 2022 EU electricity generation compared to 2020 – a massive reduction indicating the snowballing momentum underway.

Reductions beget further reductions, and each new record low becomes the floor to undercut again. Passing climate tipping points grows more feasible as runaway positive feedback loops are unlocked. While progress remains uneven across the EU, the bloc’s vanguard countries demonstrate the compounding benefits of urgent fossil phase-outs. Accelerating this transition bloc-wide is critical to cementing an irreversible descent across the European power sector this decade.

Cheap renewable expansion meanwhile drove much of the fossil decline in leading markets. Solar and wind doubled in Germany since 2018 and now provide over 50% of its power. Portugal and Spain also harnessed sunny, gusty weather to slash fossil fuels.

Overall, Ember called 2022 EU electricity generation a “breakthrough year” for renewable growth and fossil decline in EU power. Wind and solar additions reached new records across many nations. If the momentum continues, experts predict the EU can be on track for carbon-neutral power before 2040.

With Russia still weaponizing energy supplies, accelerating the renewable transition is a pressing solution. As Ember’s report affirms, phasing out all fossil fuels from Europe’s electricity mix is technically and economically achievable this decade through committed leadership. The climate benefits of such a full phase-out would be immediate and immense.

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