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UK, Germany and Spain reach renewable energy milestone

Trio see renewable energy surpass fossil-fuel power generation but transition to clean energy "still too slow" warns Ember and Agora Energiewende report

Dominic Ellis
|Jan 28|magazine5 min read

Renewables generated 38 percent of Europe’s electricity in 2020 - up 3.4 percent year-on-year - overtaking fossil-fired power generation for the first time, according to Ember and Agora Energiewende's fifth annual report.

At a country level, the UK, Germany and Spain achieved the milestone for the first time.

But the report warns that the transition from coal to clean energy is "still too slow" for reaching 55 percent greenhouse gas reductions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. 

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While Covid-19 had an impact in all countries, its impact on the overall trend from fossil fuels to renewables was quite limited. 

"The rise in renewables was reassuringly robust despite the pandemic, and the fall in fossil-fired electricity could have been even more dramatic, had it not been for such a bounce-back in electricity demand and the worst year on record for nuclear generation," the report states.

Other key findings:

  • Wind and solar are powering Europe’s renewables rise Wind generation rose 9 percent in 2020 and solar generation rose 15 percent
  • But wind and solar generation growth must nearly triple to reach Europe’s 2030 green deal targets Currently national energy and climate plans only add up to about 72 TWh new wind and solar per year, not the 100 TWh/year needed 
  • Coal generation fell 20 percent in 2020, and has halved since 2015 Half of the drop in 2020 was due to a decrease in electricity demand, which fell by 4 percent due to the impact of Covid-19; and half was from additional wind and solar
  • Gas generation fell only 4 percent in 2020, despite the pandemic Most of the fall in fossil was on coal rather than gas last year
  • Nuclear generation fell by 10 percent in 2020 – probably the largest fall ever That also kept gas (and to a lesser-extent coal) generation from falling further
  • Europe’s electricity in 2020 was 29 percent cleaner than in 2015 Carbon intensity has fallen from 317 grams of CO2 per Kwh in 2015 to 226 grams in 2020  

Patrick Graichen, Director, Agora Energiewende, said renewables overtaking fossils is an important milestone in Europe’s clean energy transition, but warned against complacency.

"The European Green Deal – our response to the climate crisis – requires some 100 TWh of annual additions of renewables, a doubling of the deployment speed seen in 2020. Post-pandemic recovery programmes thus need to go hand-in-hand with accelerated climate action," he said.

Ember and Agora Energiewende report
Energy Digital magazine