As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European countries increased their renewable energy capacity. The EU’s REPowerEU plan aims to increase the share of renewable energy to 45 percent by 2020.
According to thinktank Ember, however, the war and the EU’s transition to renewable energy are already having a significant impact. Solar and wind power will generate about 22 percent of the energy generated by the EU by 2022, surpassing fossil fuels which will generate 20 percent.
Despite the shocks of 2022, it appears that Europe has avoided the worst of the energy crisis, as coal power only fluctuated a little and renewable energy support surged significantly. In Europe, coal power for electricity generation is on its way out; only 16 percent of the EU’s electricity was generated by coal power last year. Even though it was a slight increase over 2021, it was just 1.5 percent, far below what many feared.
Based on Ember, the EU faced a “triple crisis” in electricity in 2022. During the period, Europe experienced the lowest levels of hydro and nuclear (power) in at least two decades, just as it cut ties with its largest fossil gas supplier, Russia, resulting in a significant electricity deficit.
As a result of the record solar and wind power production, nuclear and hydropower deficits were compensated. Solar power grew 24 percent, almost doubling its previous record, while wind power grew 8.6 percent.
Almost 50 percent more solar power capacity was added to the EU in 2022, with Germany, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, and France adding the most capacity. In the Netherlands and Greece, solar energy is expected to outperform coal by the end of this year.
In 2022, despite the continent entering winter, electricity demand in Europe dropped significantly, lessening Europe’s energy crisis. Mild weather and affordability pressures likely played a role in reducing energy demand during a time of crisis, along with citizens acting in solidarity. During the lockdown in mid-2020, the decline was nearly as steep, at 9.6 percent.
Gas and coal generation in 2022 decreased by 9 percent, in line with the drop in demand. The EU’s fossil fuel generation would likely have fallen twice as fast had France’s nuclear plants operated at the same capacity as they did in 2021. Even though the EU imported 22 million tonnes of coal in 2022, only a third of it was used. Only 18 percent of the 26 coal reactors on emergency standby during the winter season were in service.
According to Ember, the EU’s use of solar and wind energy will continue to grow in 2023, as will hydropower and French nuclear capacity. Ember predicts that gas will fall the fastest because it will remain more expensive for a few years. As a result of the large drop in gas generation, the power sector will likely experience the fastest decline in gas demand in 2023, bringing calm to European gas markets as Europe adjusts to life without Russian gas.
Europe must completely decarbonize its power system by the mid-2030s if it is to stay on track with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the evidence, this can be accomplished without compromising supply security.