Wind and solar boom eases Europe's energy crisis

Growth in clean power saves an estimated €11 billion in gas costs

Wind turbines in a German offshore park in the Baltic Sea. EPA
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A wind and solar power boom since Europe’s energy crisis erupted has saved the continent at least €11 billion ($10.8bn) in gas costs, according to a new report.

Record wind and solar generation in 19 countries since the war in Ukraine broke out in February was a bright spot in Europe’s energy market.

Russia’s gas cuts, along with reduced nuclear power generation in France and droughts affecting hydropower plants, have squeezed Europe’s energy supplies going into winter.

But the European Union’s wind and solar generation rose by a record 13 per cent since last year, new figures show. Poland’s wind turbines led the way by producing 50 per cent more power.

“As we fight the current crisis, we are laying the foundations of a cleaner and more modern energy system which will serve us well in the years and decades to come,” EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson said on Tuesday.

Experts at think tanks Ember and E3G said the cleaner power prevented inflation from jumping even higher.

They calculated that Europe would have needed to import 70 billion cubic metres of extra gas without its wind farms and solar panels, costing €99bn in total.

The additional wind and solar capacity installed this year represented about €11bn of those savings, they said.

“Renewables are already protecting the EU against inflation,” their report said.

“In addition to the climate benefits, accelerating the deployment of cheap renewable energy will reduce Europe’s exposure to costly fossil fuels.”

Solar panels on farmland in Amance, France. AFP

Despite this progress, clean power generation has not always filtered through to lower electricity prices for customers.

The EU’s 27 countries last month agreed a windfall tax on companies making excess revenue from renewables, when their extra gas costs are minimal.

Plans are also being drawn up in Brussels to redesign the energy market to separate gas prices from electricity costs.

One of the most contentious proposals for this winter, a price cap on gas, will be debated by EU leaders at a Brussels summit on Thursday and Friday.

A first round of talks in Prague this month ended with no clear breakthrough. More than half of the EU’s members are demanding a cap, but others are concerned that exporters will not supply Europe at a lower price.

Norway, now the EU’s biggest gas supplier instead of Russia, said it would not recommend a pan-European price cap.

Deals have been signed between European countries and gas exporters further afield, including Qatar and the US, to boost supplies this winter.

Updated: October 23, 2022, 5:46 AM