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In Europe, green energy beats fossil fuels for the first time ever

Green energy, which includes wind, solar, hydro, and bioenergy, has generated 40% of European Union electricity for the first time in 2020, compared to fossil fuels generating 34%, independent think-tank Ember said in a half-yearly report.

Green energy rose by 11%, and fossil fuels fell by 18%. New wind and solar installations and favorable weather conditions drove wind and solar output in the first half of 2020. That growing green energy and a drop in energy demand due to the pandemic caused fossil fuel usage to fall. Wind rose by 11%, solar by 16%, and hydro by 12%. Bioenergy generation rose by approximately 1%.

Coal’s demise

Coal fell by 32% and natural gas fell by 6% across the EU. Every EU country that still uses coal saw a fall in coal generation: Germany led in absolute terms with a drop of 31TWh (39%), Poland (12%), Czech Republic (20%), Bulgaria (20%), and Romania (40%). Some of the highest percentage drops of coal use occurred in the following countries:

  • Portugal: 95% (phased out next year)
  • Spain: 58%
  • Austria 54%
  • Greece 58%
  • Ireland 48%

And Austria and Sweden closed their last coal plants in March. (France, which relies heavily on nuclear, also saw a big drop in power demand.) The awkward member is Poland, who refused to commit to the 2050 climate target at an EU summit in December.

Fast transition

Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst at Ember, said:

This marks a symbolic moment in the transition of Europe’s electricity sector. Renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels, driven by wind and solar replacing coal. That’s fast progress from just nine years ago when fossil fuels generated twice as much as renewables.

Ember summarizes:

It’s now clear that Europe’s coal-to-clean transition is happening quicker than most people expected. On one hand COVID-19 has slowed new wind and solar installations this year, but on the other hand it has shown us that our electricity grids can cope with record shares of wind and solar on the electricity grid, although some inflexibilities have been exposed. Renewables have proved more resilient than fossil fuels in the face of this crisis.

Ember’s findings were reinforced by Global Energy Monitor researchers. Global Energy Monitor program director Christine Shearer said:

The fact that such a rapid decline has taken place indicates the increasingly uncompetitive economics of coal power.

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Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.