Nature and Biodiversity

Chart of the day: Is 2019 the beginning of the end for coal in Europe?

The coal power plant "Staudinger" by energy company Uniper is photographed during sunrise in Grosskrotzenburg, 30km outside Frankfurt, Germany, February 13, 2019.  REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach - RC159CB62AB0

Out with the coal... Image: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Coal generation in Europe fell by a fifth in the first half of this year, with almost every coal-burning country cutting back.

Western Europe saw particularly dramatic drops in production – up to 79% in Ireland, according to climate think-tank Sandbag. And there were times of zero or near-zero generation in many countries. The UK, for example, switched off its coal plants for a fortnight in May for the first time.

Image: Sandbag

In absolute terms, Germany saw the biggest drop, as it made substantial cutbacks in both hard coal and its dirtier relative lignite. But it remained responsible for over a third of the coal generation in the EU so far this year, the research shows.

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The rise of renewables

Renewable resources are slowly taking the place of coal, with both solar and wind energy rising across the EU. However, the use of gas, another fossil fuel, has risen as coal disappears and carbon pricing shifts incentives.

The fall in coal use has been much smaller in eastern European countries, with lower uptake of green alternatives. And in some cases, such as Slovenia and Bulgaria, coal generation even rose. Many countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, still rely heavily on lignite.

Image: Sandbag
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Down and dirty

The trend for less coal puts the EU on course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5% year-on-year. But coal’s phase-out is still fairly slow: just a smattering of plants have been closed so far in 2019, mostly in the UK and Germany. And coal will continue to account for 12% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions this year.

Image: IEA

Globally coal makes up almost two-fifths of electricity generation, according to the International Energy Agency. It is also crucial in the iron and steel industries. And while its use has been falling in some regions, such as the US and Europe, demand continues to climb in China and India.

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityClimate ActionEnergy Transition
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