Energy-wise, 2022 was a challenging year for the European Union. Gas prices increased and availability decreased as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, while its hydropower resources were stressed by the summer drought.
According to recent research from energy think tank Ember, despite these difficulties, 2016 turned out to be a promising year for renewable energy in the bloc. For the first time, wind and solar power generated more than a fifth of the electricity used in the EU, surpassing the output of gas and coal combined.
According to Dave Jones, head of data insights at Ember, Europe has escaped the worst of the energy crisis. The shocks of 2022 barely little impacted coal power and significantly increased support for alternative energy sources. Any worries about a coal rebound have been allayed. The shift to clean energy in Europe comes out of this crisis stronger than ever.
The research is based on Ember’s seventh annual study on power generation in the EU, the European Electricity Review 2023. According to the research and Carbon Brief, 2022 was a crucial year for the EU’s energy transition because it was marked by the triple crisis of lower Russian gas, a 500-year drought, and French nuclear outages.
The EU imported a third of its gas from Russia before to its invasion of Ukraine. Following this, Russia cut back on supply, and the EU imposed sanctions on imports of coal and oil from that nation. This raised worries that European leaders might place a higher priority on energy security than on tackling climate change.
According to Energy Monitor, 26 11-gigawatt (GW) coal plants were in fact put back on emergency standby, and the EU imported 22 million more tonnes of coal than it did in 2021. However, because this had already happened in 2021 when gas prices started to climb, there was actually not much switching between coal and gas in 2022.
According to Jones, Moving from Gas to Coal was Not Conceivable Until 2022.
However, the research also stated that severe drought caused hydropower to decline to its lowest levels at least since 2000 and that a power outage at French nuclear plants coincided with the retirement of German units.
As a result, the region saw a 185 terawatt-hour (TWh) deficit in electricity generation, which was as much as 7% of the EU’s annual demand.
In this case, wind and solar energy filled in the remaining five-sixths of the deficit. Fossil fuels made up the remaining six percent of energy production, which increased overall by 3% from 2021 to 2022.
As a result, even while coal use did increase by 7% compared to 2021 and emissions from the power sector increased by 3.9%, the increase was far lower than anticipated.
It might have been much worse because of wind, solar, and a decrease in electrical usage, according to Ember.
According to Carbon Brief, wind and solar combined accounted for 22.3 percent of the EU’s electricity mix, surpassing nuclear power’s 21.9 percent and gas’s 19.9 percent.
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While they had already surpassed coal in 2019 and hydro in 2015, this was the first year that wind and solar have generated more energy than nuclear and gas. Despite this, according to Ember, nuclear and hydro together produced more electricity in 2022 than wind and solar.
Solar had the best year of the new carbon-free energy sources, producing 39 TWh more than in 2021, a rise of more than 24 percent. This was made possible by new solar installations totaling a record 41 GW, up 47% from 2021.
This was a wise investment because it helped avoid spending an additional $10 billion on gas. Additionally, the biggest amount of solar electricity ever produced in the world was broken in 20 EU nations.
In response to the findings, SolarPower Europe CEO Waldburga Hemetsberger told Euronews Green that solar is rising up just when Europe needs it most. These new figures demonstrate that the energy transition’s true cornerstone is solar energy’s tremendous rise.
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Ember projects that 2023 will be an even greener year with a 20 percent increase in wind and solar power, a recovery in nuclear and hydropower, and a projected 20 percent drop in fossil fuel use. Due to a decline in demand, coal generation already reduced during the final four months of 2022, and two-thirds of the additional coal imported by the EU was never used.
According to Jones in the report, European nations are now working to phase out gas in addition to their continued commitment to phase out coal. Undoubtedly, the energy crisis has accelerated Europe’s move to electricity.
In 2023, the clean, electrified economy that Europe is hurdling toward will be fully manifest. Everyone needs to be prepared for the rapid change that is coming.