The European Union saw a record drop in pollution from fossil fuel power plants last year, according to a new report. Ember, an energy think tank who analyzed the figures, speaks of “an unprecedented collapse in coal and gas-fired electricity production”. Renewable energies are finally starting to invade the electricity grid.
Fossil fuels have fallen to their lowest level since reliable record-keeping began in 1990, accounting for less than a third of EU electricity production in 2023. Pollution-free electricity production by carbon – which includes renewable energies and nuclear energy – represented more than two to three times as much of the electricity mix, and twice as much as fossil fuels.
“An unprecedented collapse in coal and gas-fired power generation. »
“The encouraging thing is that the structural decline of fossil fuels continues,” says Sarah Brown, Ember’s Europe program director. And even though the records started in 1990, she says, “We think this is the lowest point ever, because before that fossil fuels were the majority and there was nothing else to replace them.”
Coal saw the biggest decline in 2023, producing 26% less electricity than the previous year. Gas plants produced 15 percent less electricity last year, the biggest annual reduction in at least a few decades. In total, this means a considerable 19 percent reduction in fossil fuel production and carbon dioxide emissions linked to global heating. This is an even bigger drop in electricity sector pollution than the bloc experienced in 2020, when the covid-19 pandemic brought business and travel to a halt.
Coal production was already beginning to decline in the EU until the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to a comeback of coal as countries began to wean themselves off Russian gas. Today, it appears that this resurgence was a short-lived trend. Coal production is half of what it was in 2016 and is on track to be completely phased out, Brown says.
Renewable energy now represents 44% of the EU's electricity mix, the highest share to date. Wind power, in particular, will explode in 2023, producing 18% of electricity – the equivalent of France's entire electricity demand – and overtaking gas for the first time. Solar power has increased to 9% of the mix, while hydroelectric generation has recovered Drought 2022.
Energy efficiency is an often unsung hero of this story. Electricity demand actually fell 3.4% in 2023, driven in part by efficiency gains. In the future, the electrification of cars and homes is expected to boost demand. It is therefore all the more important to prioritize energy efficiency and bring more solar and wind farms online.
There is still a lot of progress to be made. Wind generation increased by 13 percent in 2023, but it must continue to increase by 15 percent each year this decade to meet needs. EU clean energy targetsthe report said.