For the first time, in 2022, electricity produced in Europe from wind and solar (22%) exceeded that generated from gas (20%). News, the one we read in the annual report of the Ember research center, decidedly encouraging along the complex path to reduce emissions and fight the climate crisis.
As known, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the EU sanctions against Moscow have led European countries to redefine the sources of supply of their energy mix. There are those who have implemented renewable sources and those who, like Italy, have openly bet again on gas for their energy, as the premier recalled Giorgia Meloni in Algeria, where it secured the necessary gas supplies for the immediate future and presented its “Piano Mattei”.
Nevertheless the Ember report points out that electricity production from fossil sources, such as gas, could soon collapse by 20% in 2023, almost double the previous record in 2020.
Wind and solar grow, coal recovery avoided
Inside the report European Electricity Review it is explained that not only Europe has generated a fifth of its electricity from the sun and windbut also avoided – in a context of general energy crisis – what was possible return of coal: the share of energy produced thanks to this fossil fuel increased by just 1.% to generate 16% of EU electricity in 2022, down year-on-year for the last four months.
For Dave Joneswho serves as Ember’s Head of data insights, “l‘Europe has avoided the worst-case scenario of the energy crisis. The 2022 shocks have caused only a small ripple in coal-fired power and a huge surge in support for renewables. Any fears of a coal recovery are now dead.”
A challenge which, recalls the Ember analysis, was faced in a particularly complex context for electricity: on the one hand the cutting ties with Russian gas supplieson the other the double hydroelectric crisis (also due to the impact of drought) and del nuclear (both in France and Germany). This triple crisis “has created a deficit equal to 7% of Europe’s total electricity demand in 2022”.
Thanks to growth of wind and solar however, it was possible to mitigate the deficit of hydroelectric and nuclear power: photovoltaic was above all growing fastest (39 TWh in 2022, +24%) with values that are almost double the previous record. Solar – it is estimated – has helped to avoid 10 billion euros in gas costs.
A total of 20 European Union countries set new solar energy records in 2022 last year. To literally take a leap forward especially i Netherlands and the Greece and Italy has also grown, albeit slightly.
However, it should be emphasized that the general decrease in electricity demand in Europe also reduced the deficit (-7.9% in the last quarter of 2022 compared to the same period of the previous year) due to various factors including the mild climatei energy efficiency improvements and also the responsible actions of citizens to reduce consumption. At the same time, about a sixth of the nuclear and hydroelectric deficit was still covered by coal.
Towards a drop in gas?
What surprised analysts, however, is above all the fact that – while an increase was expected – electricity generation from gas remained almost unchanged (+0.8%) in 2022 compared to 2021: last year gas was responsible for 20% of electricity in Europe while in 2021 it was around 19%.
The report claims that theelectricity of the futureas early as 2023, will be less and less linked to this fossil source, thanks to sun, wind and a possible recovery of hydroelectric and nuclear power. A decline that will also be faster than that of coal.
“Energy transition emerges in the crisis”
“There energy transition of Europe emerges from this crisis stronger than ever – continues Dave Jones of Ember – . Not only are European countries still committed to phasing out coal, but now they are also striving to phase out gas. The energy crisis has undoubtedly accelerated the electric transition of Europe which is racing towards a clean and electrified economy, and this will be fully visible in 2023. Change is coming fast and everyone has to be ready.”
To applaud what is seen as a “significant acceleration of renewables” is also Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission. “As far as offshore wind and rooftop solar power are concerned, the numbers are staggering,” Timmermans said commenting on the report. “It is clear that European citizens want to benefit from clean, low-cost energy. This shows that our goal of 45% renewable energy by 2030 is ambitious but entirely achievable. Europeans know that we have to move away from fossil fuels. Renewable energy is key to tackling the climate crisis and reducing air pollution. They are also critical to ending our dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The current energy crisis will still bring a difficult winter, but the more renewables we have, the more sovereign we will be in our energy supply”.
In the end, Michael GovernorsPower & Gas Lead of Ecco, the climate think tank, looks with confidence to an Italy where “energy users have reacted wisely to the shock: annual installed renewable energy capacity tripled, almost 10% reduction No previously closed coal-fired plants have reopened, while we expect their use to decrease again with the normalization of the gas price“.