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In 2017, wind, sun and biomass, in the European Union have for the first time generated more electricity than hard coal and lignite combined. The biggest increase can be found in wind and solar energy. Biomass rose only 3% in the EU last year.

This is shown by analysis of two think tanks: Sandbag from Great Britain and Agora Energiewende from Germany. The authors of the study have compiled and evaluated public data from numerous sources.

The analysis also shows that the share of renewables in the various EU countries is growing very unevenly. In the past three years, the United Kingdom and Germany have contributed to more than half of the increase in renewables – wind energy in particular is playing a major role here. In Germany, in 2017, 30 percent of the electricity was generated from wind, solar and biomass, and 28 percent in the United Kingdom. The strongest percentage growth was recorded in Denmark: in 2017, 74 percent of the electricity produced there came from wind, solar and biomass, a rise of seven percentage points.

Low growth

The strong growth in a few countries is contrasted with very low growth in many other EU countries. Six countries still had less than 10 percent of their electricity production from wind, solar and biomass in 2017: these are Slovenia (4%), Bulgaria (7%), France (8%), Slovakia (8%), Czech Republic (8%) and Hungary (10%). Other countries had good growth at the start of the decade, but then gave up on renewables with almost no growth in the last three years, like Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Greece.

On fossil energy, the development is mixed. Hard coal power generation fell by 7 percent because of higher wind generation. With coal phase-outs announced in Netherlands, Italy and Portugal, hard coal generation will continue to fall. However, the route away from lignite is far from assured. Lignite generation even rose slightly.

Rise in CO2 emissions

Despite the increase in renewable energy, CO2 emissions of the European electricity sector did not fall in 2017, remaining stable at 1,019 million tonnes. A combination of three factors led to this. Firstly, the production of electricity from hydropower has fallen to a Europe-wide low, mainly due to low rainfall and snowfall. Second, nuclear power plants in France and Germany delivered less electricity than in previous years. And thirdly, electricity consumption in the European Union has grown for the third year in a row. It rose by 0.7 percent in 2017.

In order to achieve the EU’s 2030 renewable energy target, the EU will need to increase its efforts in deploying renewables in the coming years compared to recent trends. According to Matthias Buck, Director of European Energy Policy at Agora Energiewende, 35 per cent renewable energy by 2030 is entirely feasible. Sandbag analyst Dave Jones adds that the biggest difference to emissions will be made if countries retire coal plants. In 2017, there were 258 operational coal plants in Europe, responsible for 38 percent of all emissions under the Emissions Trading System, or 15 percent of total EU greenhouse gases.

The analysis from the report “The European Power Sector in 2017” was presented in Brussels this week. Both the report and an Excel sheet containing all data used in the publication are available for free download on the website of Agora Energiewende.