Renewable Energy and €12bn in Energy Conservation Prevent EU’s Relapse to Fossil Fuels

In the last winter season, almost every European Union (EU) nation experienced a decline in energy consumption. While some reductions were deliberate, others resulted from rising expenses. For the first time in history, renewable sources generated a larger portion of the EU’s energy than fossil fuels, as reported by energy research group Ember. Energy demand fell by 7 per cent, leading to a 12 per cent drop in fossil fuel production compared to 2021. Coal usage decreased by 11 per cent, and gas consumption dropped by 13 per cent, despite concerns that EU nations might resort to coal as they attempted to reduce dependence on Russian gas.

Out of the 18 EU countries still utilizing coal energy, 15 of them experienced a reduction in coal production last winter. Poland and Germany, the largest consumers of coal, accounted for 70 per cent of the decline. In Poland, coal reached an unprecedented low, constituting less than two-thirds of total power generation. Meanwhile, Portugal experienced the most significant percentage decrease among EU countries after shutting down its last remaining coal-powered plant in winter 2021. From October 2022 to March 2023, Ember’s study reveals that renewable sources such as wind and solar generated more energy than fossil fuels for the first time. Renewables constituted 40 per cent of the EU’s energy production, compared to 37 per cent from fossil fuels. Ember also noted that coal and gas production would have decreased even more if not for prolonged disruptions in France’s nuclear network.

Dr. Chris Rosslowe, an analyst at Ember, commented, “Europe was confronted with a critical winter due to escalating energy prices and supply issues resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” He continued, “The EU managed to endure these challenging times, but it cannot depend on temporary demand reductions and mild weather in the coming years.” Dr. Rosslowe emphasized the importance of the EU’s swift transition away from fossil fuels to maintain a stable power supply. During the past winter, nearly every EU member state experienced a decrease in electricity demand. However, only Romania, Slovakia, and Greece reached the voluntary target of a 10 per cent reduction established by emergency EU legislation last year. On average, demand decreased by 6.2 per cent between November and March, resulting in €12 billion worth of saved electricity.

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According to Ember, this reduction can be partially attributed to above-average temperatures throughout Europe. However, government initiatives and individual efforts to conserve energy also contributed to the decline. All EU countries, except Ireland, met the mandatory targets to reduce consumption during peak hours by 5 per cent. Some reductions were intentional, while others were imposed due to financial constraints. Recent Eurostat data revealed that average electricity prices reached an all-time high in the second half of 2022. Costs increased significantly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and skyrocketed towards the year’s end. Household electricity expenses increased in all EU member states, except for Malta and the Netherlands.