The natural gas crisis in Europe interrupted the European Union's (EU) coal phase-out although renewables trumped with wind and solar power generating more electricity than gas for the first time, according to London-based think tank Ember's European Electricity Review on Tuesday.
The sixth annual European Electricity Review, which compares EU-27 electricity generation in 2021 to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, revealed the changing dynamics of the power sector during the natural gas crisis in the EU due to skyrocketing energy prices and the supply-demand imbalance as the EU recovers from the pandemic.
The report found that fossil fuels still accounted for 37% of EU electricity generation last year, although this was down slightly from 39% in 2019.
Out of total electricity generation, renewables accounted for 37% and nuclear power for 26%.
Ember revealed a shift in the share of renewables replacing coal to now replacing fossil gas in Europe, as demonstrated in the second half of 2021.
The climate and energy think tank argued that as only a sixth of Europe's renewable electricity replaced coal, coal power declined just 3% from 2019 to 2021 compared to previously between 2011 and 2019 when over 80% of new renewables replaced coal.
Europe's renewable electricity expanded with an average annual growth of 44 terawatt-hours in the last two years, more than half of which was generated by renewables that replaced half of the gas power and a third of nuclear power, but only a sixth of coal power.
Ember said that Europe's slowing coal phase-out and its failure to deploy enough clean power meant that EU power sector emissions fell at less than half the rate required to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
'The gas crisis is a paradigm shift for the EU's electricity transition. Action is needed to ensure Europe's coal phase-out stays on track. Legislation is the only way to guarantee that coal plants are closed by 2030, volatile gas prices have made it clear that you cannot rely on market forces alone,' said Charles Moore, Ember’s Europe lead.
Between 2019 and 2021, coal generation only dropped in countries that closed coal power stations like Spain which saw a 42% reduction and in Greece where coal power fell by 43%. However, this was mostly offset by an increase in Poland which saw a 7% rise.
Spain delivered the largest power sector emissions reductions in the last two years, while Poland was by far the largest drag on overall progress, the report revealed.
'The current gas crisis should be a huge wake-up call,' he said, insisting that both coal and gas need to go and go fast.
According to the report, EU wind and solar power delivered throughout the energy crisis setting monthly records.
Wind and solar power reached another record with 547 terawatt-hours for the first time generating more electricity than natural gas. Solar alone produced 27% more power in 2021 compared to 2019 while it doubled in Spain and the Netherlands.
'Keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach requires a massive step up in renewables to ensure that all fossil fuels are off the grid by 2035. Now is the moment to double down on Europe's transition to clean electricity,' Moore warned.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya