Renewables overtake fossil fuels in EU's electricity grid

Bloc's greenhouse gas emissions are down by 31 per cent compared with 1990

The EU welcomed a green milestone on Wednesday as renewable energy overtook fossil fuels as a source of electricity in the bloc.

Clean energy sources such as solar and wind power accounted for 38 per cent of the EU’s electricity in 2020, while fossil fuels such as oil and gas made up 37 per cent.

This is the first time that renewable energy has taken the lead, the European Commission said in an announcement, just days before the start of the Cop26 summit.

The other 25 per cent came from nuclear power, whose status is disputed. EU members such as France regard it as a clean energy source, but others such as Germany do not.

Kadri Simson, the EU’s Energy Commissioner, said there were times last year when renewables made up the majority of Europe’s electricity.

“In the present set-up, fossil fuels are only used when there is not enough affordable green or low-carbon energy to meet the demand,” she said.

She said greater use of renewables was the only durable way out of the current spike in energy prices, caused by a surge in demand for gas.

“It is imperative that we do not scale back our ambition, but accelerate the green transition,” she said.

Nine EU members, including Austria and Belgium, have already phased out coal power, which is regarded as the most environmentally damaging fossil fuel.

Germany, one of the EU’s biggest coal users, is poised to bring forward its coal exit to 2030 under plans being discussed by potential coalition partners in Berlin. The current date set in law is 2038.

France wants nuclear power designated as a clean fuel, opening the door to green investment, but this is opposed by Germany, Austria and other nations.

Hydroelectric and wind power are the most common renewable sources across Europe, followed by solar energy and solid biofuels.

While renewables are now the most common energy source in electricity generation, other sectors such as heating and transport are further behind.

Renewables made up only 9 per cent of energy use in the transport sector, despite electric car registrations trebling from 2019 to 2020.

Some 30 per cent of road emissions come from heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and lorries.

The EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions were down by 31 per cent compared to 1990 levels, which is the benchmark used by officials. The target is that they should be down 55 per cent by 2030.

Brussels said energy use remained higher than the level required to meet the 2030 target. “More efforts are needed to meet climate targets,” Ms Simson said.

Updated: October 27th 2021, 9:49 AM
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