EU in 2019: Coal collapse makes way for solar and wind


 UK climate think-tank Sandbag launched the sixth edition of their annual report, in partnership with the German think-tank, Agora Energiewende.

The report The European Power Sector in 2019” aggregates data from every European Union (EU) country, to present the latest insights on Europe’s electricity transition. The data is provided open-source and free to download.

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Image credit: Sandbag

According to the report:

1) For the first time, wind and solar provided more electricity than coal

In 2019, wind and solar provided 18% (569TWh) of EU electricity, whilst coal fell to just 15% (469TWh). Only five years ago, the EU generated twice as much from coal as it did from wind and solar.

2) Electricity generation from coal collapsed

In just one year, coal generation fell 24% in the EU, and is now less than half the level in 2007. This led to a 12% fall in European power sector CO2 emissions in 2019 alone – the biggest fall since at least 1990.

Many countries in western Europe saw significantly larger year-on-year falls while eastern Europe lagged behind. Half of the coal was replaced by wind & solar, and half was replaced with gas. Wind and solar generation rose because of new capacity installations, and gas generation rose as higher CO2 prices and low gas prices boosted the competitiveness of gas power plants in relation to coal generation.

3) The countries with the biggest increase in wind & solar saw the biggest falls in coal

From 2010 to 2019, coal’s share of the electricity mix fell by 10%, while wind and solar rose by a combined 13%.

Europe’s transition avoided a bridge into gas: despite the uptick in gas generation in 2019, gas’s share is still 1% lower in 2019 than in 2010, and only 7GW of new gas plants have come online in Europe since 2014.

4) Europe’s coal to clean transition looks set to accelerate

In 2019, wind capacity is estimated to have expanded by around 14GW, the second-highest amount on record, and solar by around 17GW, double last year’s rate.

Meanwhile, the economics continued to shift in favour of renewables over fossil: 2019 saw record-low auction prices for offshore wind (UK) and solar (Portugal) – both below wholesale prices. Looking ahead, the wind and solar trade associations in Europe predict that the rate of new installations will accelerate. 

5) In 2019, two more European countries committed to phase-out coal

Greece and Hungary will cease generating electricity from coal by 2028 and 2030 respectively, bringing the total countries coal-free by 2030 to 20 out of 28 countries. 2019 also saw the formation of Czechia’s Coal Commission, tasked with setting an end-date for coal.

Coal phase-out dates and remaining coal capacities

Image credit: Sandbag

Dave Jones, Electricity Analyst at Sandbag said “Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar, and as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly. 30% of all global fossil emissions still come from coal generation – so it’s critical that there is an urgent focus to transition away from coal in all countries.”

“Europe has become a test-bed for replacing coal with wind & solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.”