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Across Europe, renewable power was the largest source of electricity generation for the sixth quarter in a row, as the easing of lockdown restrictions sparked an upturn in demand.

Those were the standout statistics in the latest quarterly report on the European power generation market from energy data analyst EnAppSys.

The study showed that renewable output across Europe totalled 264.5TWh in the three months to September 30 – the highest generation seen in any previous third quarter and an 8% rise on Q3 2019.

Further insights from EnAppSys

The increase was due largely to high levels of wind (95.5TWh) and hydro (105.3TWh), which were the dominant providers of renewable electricity (39.8% and 37.6% respectively).

Renewables has now been the largest source of electricity generation for the sixth straight quarter, providing 40.3% of total output in Q3 while fossil fuels produced 35.2% and nuclear 24.4%.

In the UK, renewables generation hit a third quarter record (25.22TWh), with decreases in solar and biomass generation being offset by increases in output from wind and hydro. In total, renewables produced 39.0% of overall power generation, with nuclear plants (16.1%), imports (3.9%) and coal (0.4%) making up the remainder.

Nuclear recovered slightly in the latest quarter, increasing by 7% to 159.9TWh after a relatively low output of 149.9TWh in Q2, but remained 15% lower than levels recorded in Q3 2019.

The fall in nuclear generation is due in part to a significant drop in output in France and the UK. French-owned EDF expects output from its nuclear reactors to fall by a fifth this year, with financial targets withdrawn for 2020 and 2021 as a result of lower electricity demand.

Furthermore, a combination of the Sizewell output reduction contract, Hinkley Point B7 going offline in mid-June, and time offline at Hartlepool 2, Heysham 1-1 and Heysham 1-2 in August also contributed.

Fossil fuel generation fell by 4% in the third quarter of this year in line with a general trend of declining coal and lignite output seen in recent years.

Jean-Paul Harreman, director of EnAppSys BV, said: “Since the second quarter of 2019, renewables have made up the majority of quarterly European generation, and the previous quarter was no exception. Hydro was still the greatest contributor (40%) to the renewables mix, with Norway the largest reservoir hydro generator (49% of the total share) and Italy the biggest contributor (21%) to river hydro generation.

“Wind generation produced the second largest share of renewables (38%), with Germany maintaining its position as the highest producer of wind power in every quarter since 2015.

“While Poland is still the largest producer of coal in Europe and Germany has the biggest lignite output, total generation from these power sources has generally been declining in recent years. Even countries that still use coal and lignite are now starting to turn away from them in favour of cleaner alternatives.”

Demand recovered strongly after falling away rapidly at the end of Q1 as much of Europe went into a coronavirus-induced lockdown. By the end of the third quarter, total European demand had returned to levels seen in the same period in 2019.

In the UK, electricity generation, demand and prices bounced back to pre-COVID levels in the previous quarter as Britain returned to work following the easing of lockdown restrictions. The three months to the end of September 2020 showed that demand totalled 60.6TWh across the quarter – comparable to the 63.1TWh in Q3 last year and significantly higher than the 53.2TWh recorded in Q2 2020, which was the lowest quarterly level for almost 12 years.

Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys, said concerning UK’s demand: “During lockdown, the morning demand peak was lower as fewer people went into offices and factories, but as restrictions eased this peak returned beyond levels seen in the corresponding quarter in 2019. The reason for this could be an apparent overlap of business and domestic demand in Q3 2020, as some workers returned to the office and others remained at home.

“As demand rose as lockdown eased, there was less need for the system operator to accept bids to reduce wind output, with accepted wind bid volumes more than halving from 689GWh in Q2 to 318GWh in Q3. This then fed through into the increased wind generation seen in the third quarter versus the previous one”.

Jean-Paul Harreman said: “While overall European demand recovered robustly as lockdown restrictions were eased, there were some interesting variations between countries. For example, although the Netherlands, Germany and Spain resumed typical demand shapes and levels for the time of year, demand in Greece did not increase to typical Q3 levels after appearing to have stabilised in Q2.

Harreman explained that these variations can be attributed partly to varying responses to the easing of pandemic related restrictions. He added that this led to some unconventional use of interconnectors throughout Europe, giving rise to some notable trends.

“In August France saw its first month of net import (1.3GW) since November 2017, while net imports into Norway and Spain dropped to their most negative levels since January 2015 (at -3.6GW and -0.8GW respectively). Effectively, this meant that both countries were net exporters during the period”.

Towards the end of Q3 2020, measures were reintroduced to prevent a second wave of the pandemic, which has once again impacted demand shapes says Harreman.

In the third quarter, nuclear contributed 24% of the power mix, with gas (20%) and hydro (16%) in second and third place respectively. Wind contributed 15%, coal/lignite 14%, and the remaining 11% was derived from other sources.

More detail is available in the report summary.