Europe’s reliance on fossil fuel energy falls to record low, study finds

European Union countries’s burned 17 per cent less fossil fuel in the first six months of 2023 than the same period last year.

The amount of electricity that the EU generated from fossil fuels in 2023 has hit a record low, according to clean energy thinktank Ember. 

The 27-nation bloc produced 410TWh of electricity from polluting sources, amounting to 33 per cent of the EU’s total power in the first half of this year. This is the lowest amount based on available data. 

The drop in fossil fuel generation was driven by a 4.6 per cent (-61TWh) fall in demand for electricity, prompted by high gas and power prices, as well as some growth in clean power, the study found.

“We’re glad to see fossil fuels down, but in the long-term it is not going to be sustainable to rely on the fall in demand to do this,” said Matt Ewen, author of the report. “We have to be replacing this energy rather than just expecting it to go away and not be used.”

In contrast, the amount of electricity produced by renewable sources increased, with solar energy production rising by 13 per cent and wind by 5 per cent. During the same period, hydropower grew 11 per cent after a shortfall from widespread drought, and nuclear generation fell 4 per cent. 

Coal generation declined by 23 per cent, accounting for less than 10 per cent of the EU’s total electricity production for the first time ever in May, Ember reported. Similarly, gas generation decreased by 13 per cent (-33TWh).

The report found that the greatest declines in fossil fuel use year-over-year, at more than 30 per cent, were seen in Portugal, Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia and Finland. Denmark and Portugal saw renewables account for more than 75 per cent of the electricity mix. 

For the first half of the year, 14 EU countries registered their lowest fossil generation levels on record, according to the report.

However, the authors called for the bloc to increase investment into clean energy sources, warning that it is not “sustainable or desirable” to rely on reduced demand as the driver for the decline in fossil fuel use. 

“Coal and gas are too expensive, too risky and the EU is cutting them out. But we need to see clean power replacing fossil fuels faster,” said Ewen. “A massive push, especially on solar and wind, is urgently needed to underpin a resilient economy across Europe.”

The EU is currently working to achieve its pledge to cut greenhouse gas pollution by at least 42.5 per cent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade, and to hit net zero emissions by 2050.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the former nation supplied 27 per cent of the EU’s imported oil and 40 per cent of its gas, with the bloc paying around €400bn (£341bn) a year in return. However, in May 2022 the EU announced its intention to effectively cut 90 per cent of oil imports from Russia.

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