Europe breaks through: renewables overtook fossil fuels in 2019 – report


Renewables overtook fossil fuels as Europe’s primary electricity source for the first time in 2019, according to energy market data analyst EnAppSys.

The firm’s latest report on the EU power market revealed that fossil fuels generated 941.3TWh last year compared with the 1029.1TWh produced by renewables including hydropower, and 777.0TWh from nuclear plants.

Although overall levels of renewable generation dipped by 1% in 2019, they have risen 24% since 2015, outstripping the increases in fossil fuel generation (4%) and nuclear generation (5%) in the same period.

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In 2019, 37.5% of generation came from renewable projects, 34.3% from fossil fuels and 28.3% from nuclear plants.

On a more detailed basis, 28.3% came from nuclear plants, 18.2% from gas plants, 15.5% from hydro, 15.3% from coal/lignite and 13.9% from wind. The remainder came from solar (4.1%), biomass (3.4%), oil (0.6%), waste (0.5%) and peat (0.2%).

The Power produced from fossil fuels has become cleaner in recent years, with gas-fired generation climbing by 88% since 2015 while coal/lignite-fired generation has fallen by 32%. In 2019, gas-fired plants produced 500.5TWh (up from 265.7TWh in 2015), versus 419.6TWh from coal/lignite (down from 617.6TWh in 2015). This was a notable shift from the previous year when gas-fired plants generated less power than coal/lignite plants.

Of the power produced from renewables, the majority continues to come from hydro plants which generated 425.8TWh last year – an increase on the 402.6TWh produced in 2015 but down on the previous three years. Whilst recent growth in hydro generation has been very limited across Europe, wind farms have been significant changes since 2015, and generated 382.5TWh last year compared with 272.7TWh four years previously.

Growth has been much slower at solar projects across Europe, which has seen generation climb from 81.0TWh in 2015 to 113.5TWh last year. In contrast, biomass has seen more significant growth, climbing from 65.7TWh to 92.6TWh over the same period.

Jean-Paul Harreman, director of EnAppSys said: “The continued rise in renewables output meant that this power source overtook the combined output from fossil fuels for the very first time in 2019. Since 2015 several countries across Europe have seen significant growth in renewable generation at the expense of fossil fuels, while other countries already had a high share of generation from renewable sources due to a large hydro resource – with hydro remaining the largest source of renewable generation in Europe by some margin in 2019.

“One of the major changes seen in Europe in recent years – and in 2019 in particular – has been the transition from coal and lignite sources to gas. This trend has been driven largely by low gas prices and the increase in carbon prices, which makes generation from so-called ‘dirty’ fuels less attractive.

“In the context of fossil fuels seeing a 4% rise in generation from 2015 to 2019, this transition has been key in limiting the amount of carbon emissions during the period. Rises in gas-fired production at the expense of coal have produced emissions savings that will have more than offset this rise.”

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