Data from Ember has identified that the past 2 years saw renewables targeted towards replacing gas, at the expense of reducing coal use in EU member states.
Ember report tells of ‘a paradigm shift’ in the EUs electricity transition driven by the gas crisis
Ember’s annual European Electricity Review noted how the rising cost of gas seen in the latter half of 2021 created a paradigm shift for the EU’s electricity transition. In the past, the EU had been increasing energy production from renewables, at the expense of coal power. However, as gas prices soared, new renewables replaced fossil gas instead. Worryingly, this disruption to the EU’s attempts to phase out coal meant that emission reductions slowed. The study noted: “With market prices indicating that the gas crisis will continue for at least the next two years, Europe’s climate goals could be at risk if countries fail to step up renewables deployment and legislate to close coal plants.”[i]
Data From Ember Shows that Renewables Are Now Replacing Costly Gas- Not Coal (Graph Shows Change in EU-27 Electricity Generation, Annual Average in Terawatt Hours)
“Europe’s renewable electricity continues to expand, with average annual growth of 44 TWh in the last two years. More than half (52%) of this new renewable generation since 2019 replaced gas power, and a third replaced nuclear, while only a sixth replaced coal. However, prior to this, from 2011 to 2019, over 80% of new renewables replaced coal.”[ii]
According to Ember, this surge in gas prices has been caused by several factors, including:
- A cold winter in early 2021 within the Northern Hemisphere, which depleted gas storage levels.
- Increased demand and prices in Asia and South America resulted in liquefied natural gas (LNG) being delivered there rather than to Europe.
- Global demand for gas rose as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.
- Lower than expected fossil gas imports from Russia into the EU.
EU Energy demand recovers in 2021, but emissions are not declining fast enough
Concerningly, Ember’s research finds that between 2019 and 2021, EU power sector emissions declined at less than half the rate required for the Paris Climate target of 1.5C. They note that whilst 2020 saw substantial decline in energy demands as a result of the decline in economic activity and energy usage, 2021 saw EU-wide demand return to pre-pandemic levels. After falling 3.5% between 2019 and 2020, electricity demand recovered nearly all losses in 2021, rising 3.4% year-on-year and reaching almost the same levels as prior to the pandemic in 2019. This recovery occurred as businesses reopened, production demands increased, and people were no longer confined to their homes for such extended periods, as they were during the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak.
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