Energy Transition

Wind and solar power generated more electricity in the EU last year than gas did. Here’s how

Solar and wind power generated a fifth of Europe’s electricity in 2022, overtaking gas for the first time, according to a new report.

Solar and wind power generated a fifth of Europe’s electricity in 2022, overtaking gas for the first time, according to a new report. Image: Pexels/Kindel Media

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Energy Transition?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Energy Transition is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Energy Transition

This article is part of: Centre for Energy and Materials

Listen to the article

  • Solar and wind power generated a fifth of Europe’s electricity in 2022, overtaking gas for the first time, according to a new report.
  • Analysis by energy think tank Ember says solar capacity increased by 24%, which was double its previous record.
  • The surge in renewables and a drop in electricity demand meant that the EU didn’t have to rely as much on gas and coal to weather the energy crisis.

European countries were forced to accelerate their renewable energy capacity after Russia's invasion of Ukraine sparked a global energy crisis. The EU’s REPowerEU plan aims to increase the share of renewables in final energy consumption overall to 45% by the end of the decade.

However, a new report by energy think tank Ember shows that the EU’s green energy transition is already making a significant difference. Solar and wind power generated more than a fifth (22%) of its electricity in 2022, pulling ahead of fossil gas (20%) for the first time, according to the European Electricity Review 2023.

Europe also managed to avoid resorting to emissions-intensive coal power for electricity generation as a consequence of the energy crisis. Coal generated just 16% of the EU’s electricity last year, an increase of just 1.5 percentage points.

“Europe has avoided the worst of the energy crisis,” says Ember’s Head of Data Insights, Dave Jones. “The shocks of 2022 only caused a minor ripple in coal power and a huge wave of support for renewables. Any fears of a coal rebound are now dead.”

Solar and wind power produced a record 22% of the EU’s electricity in 2022.
Solar and wind power produced a record 22% of the EU’s electricity in 2022. Image: Ember

Ember’s analysis reveals that the EU faced a “triple crisis” in the electricity sector in 2022. “Just as Europe scrambled to cut ties with its biggest supplier of fossil gas, it faced the lowest levels of hydro and nuclear (power) in at least two decades, which created a deficit equal to 7% of Europe’s total electricity demand in 2022,” the report says. A severe drought across Europe, French nuclear outages as well as the closure of German nuclear outlets were responsible for the drop.

Solar power shines through

However, the record surge in solar and wind power generation helped compensate for the nuclear and hydropower deficit. Solar power rose the fastest, growing by a record 24% last year which almost doubled its previous record, with wind growing by 8.6%.

Forty-one gigawatts of solar power capacity was added in 2022, almost 50% more than the year before. Ember says that 20 EU countries achieved new solar records in 2022, with Germany, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and France adding the most solar capacity.

The Netherlands and Greece generated more power from solar than coal for the first time. Greece is also predicted to reach its 2030 solar capacity target by the end of this year.

A graph showing that the EU's solar capacity could triple by 2026. Solar and wind power
Europe’s solar capacity is set to continue to surge over the next three years. Image: Ember
Discover

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

EU electricity demand falls

A significant drop in electricity use in 2022 also helped lessen the impact of Europe’s energy crisis. Demand fell by 7.9% in the last quarter of the year, despite the continent heading into winter. This was close to the 9.6% fall experienced when Europe was in lockdown in mid-2020.

“Mild weather was a deciding factor, but affordability pressures likely played a role, alongside energy efficiency improvements and citizens acting in solidarity to cut energy demand in a time of crisis,” the report says.

A ‘coal comeback’ fails to materialize

The almost 8% fall in electricity demand in the last three months of 2022 was the main factor in the 9% fall in gas and coal generation during that time. However, Ember says that had France’s nuclear plants been operating at the same capacity as 2021, the EU’s fossil fuel generation would have fallen twice as fast in the last quarter of 2022.

The report says: “Coal power in the EU fell in all four of the final months of 2022, down 6% year-on-year. The 26 coal units placed on emergency standby for winter ran at an average of just 18% capacity. Despite importing 22 million tonnes of extra coal throughout 2022, the EU only used a third of it.”

Gas generation was very similar compared to 2021, up just 0.8%. It made up 20% of the EU electricity mix in 2022, up from 19% the year before.

Europe’s use of solar and wind power will continue to accelerate in 2023 and hydropower and French nuclear capacity will also recover.
Europe’s use of solar and wind power will continue to accelerate in 2023 and hydropower and French nuclear capacity will also recover. Image: Ember

Fossil fuel generation set to fall in 2023

Ember says Europe’s use of solar and wind power will continue to accelerate in 2023 and hydropower and French nuclear capacity will also recover. With electricity demand likely to continue to fall, it estimates that fossil fuel-generation “could plummet” by 20% in 2023.

Gas generation will fall the fastest, Ember predicts, as it will remain more expensive than coal over the next few years. “The large fall in gas generation means the power sector is likely to be the fastest falling segment of gas demand during 2023, helping to bring calm to European gas markets as Europe adjusts to life without Russian gas.”

In order to stick to the 2015 Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5C compared to pre-industrial levels, Ember says Europe must fully decarbonize its power system by the mid-2030’s. Its modelling shows that this is possible without compromizing the security of supply.

The record surge in solar and wind power generation helped compensate for the nuclear and hydropower deficit.
The record surge in solar and wind power generation helped compensate for the nuclear and hydropower deficit. Image: Ember

However, the report says “making this vision a reality will require investment above and beyond existing plans, as well as immediate action to address barriers to the expansion of clean energy infrastructure. Such a mobilization would boost the European economy, cement the EU’s position as a climate leader and send a vital international message that these challenges can be overcome.”

Have you read?
Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Energy TransitionGeographies in Depth
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How solar thermal trapping paves way for sustainable metal smelting

Paige Bennett

May 27, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum