It’s official: in the first half of 2020, and for the first time, Europe generated more electricity from renewable sources than from fossil fuels. Not only that, but electricity is proving cheaper in countries that have more renewables.
From January to June, wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy generated 40% of the electricity across the EU’s 27 member states, while fossil fuels generated 34%. In the United States, by way of contrast, fossil fuels generated more than 62% of electricity last year, while renewables accounted for less than 18%.
The EU figures, gathered and analyzed by U.K. climate think-tank Ember, represent a rapid acceleration in the decarbonization of the bloc’s electricity supply. Just five years ago, Europe generated twice as much electricity from coal as it did from wind and solar. Now, coal makes up just 12% of the EU-27’s electricity generation, while wind and solar alone provide 21%.
More broadly, the figures reflect the results of national energy policies, resulting in a 32% drop in electricity generated from coal across the EU. Austria and Sweden closed their last remaining coal-fired power plants in March, while Spain closed its coal fleet in June. Portugal’s coal generation fell a whopping 95%, and Greece’s dropped by a half. In Germany, Europe’s most populous country, electricity from coal dropped 39%—the largest fall in absolute terms, representing 31 terawatt hours—more than the entire electricity production of some EU countries.
Electricity production from natural gas also dropped across the bloc, by 6%.
While fossil fuels produced less electricity, renewables produced a lot more. Wind and solar generated an astonishing 64% of Denmark’s total generation. In Ireland the wind and sun produced 49% of electricity, and in Germany they accounted for 42%.
Meanwhile, contrary to the oft-raised contention of the fossil fuel lobby that renewable energy generation is intermittent and unreliable, ENTSOE, Europe’s association of energy producers, said there were no interruptions to supply, and that none are forecast.
Additionally, the figures reveal that countries with large renewable energy fleets typically enjoyed cheaper electricity than their fossil-fueled counterparts: in coal-dependent Poland, wholesale electricity prices came to €40 ($46) per megawatt hour, while in neighboring Germany, that price was just €23 ($26) per megawatt hour.
Speaking to Forbes.com, Dave Jones, the report’s lead author and Ember’s senior electricity analyst, said the results were exciting.
“Wind turbines and solar panels produced 22% of Europe’s electricity in the first half of this year, rising from 13% in 2016—quite a rise in just four years,” he said. “I’d say that’s pretty cool progress. It’s also exciting that they are replacing the dirtiest fuel, coal.”
Source: “European Renewables Just Crushed Fossil Fuels. Here’s How It Happened”, Forbes