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Pace of EU power emissions decline to slacken – think tank

(Montel) The massive drop in European power generation emissions in 2023 is unlikely to be repeated soon as electricity demand enters a new era of persistent growth, climate think tank Ember told Montel.

Power sector emissions in the EU fell by a record 19% – or 157m tonnes – last year thanks to sharp falls in both coal- and gas-fired generation, Ember said in a report on Wednesday.

To put this in perspective, the previous sharpest drop occurred during the pandemic year of 2020 when power sector emissions fell 13%, according to the organisation’s annual European electricity review.  

Europe’s power sector emissions are currently 46% below their 2007 peak.

“You’re still going to be seeing falls next year and the year after, but they’re not going to be that scale that we saw last year,” Ember’s insights director Dave Jones told Montel.

“The big change is knowing that you’re now going to get a bigger increase [in demand] every year from electrification as you see more heat pumps, more electric cars and the beginning of electrolysis also being built within Europe… We’re now entering an era of rising electricity demand and we’re not really used to that in Europe.”

Wind pips coal
By contrast, last year’s 94 TWh drop in power demand meant that a 90 TWh rise in wind and solar generation ate far more into the need for fossil generation. Fossil fuel generation fell 19% year on year to account for less than a third of the EU’s power supply.

Indeed, almost a quarter of hours last year saw less than a quarter of electricity coming from fossil fuels compared with only 4% of hours in 2022.

Nuclear energy remained the EU’s biggest source of power with 619 TWh, representing 23% of the mix.

But wind generation overtook gas-fired generation for the first time to become the second-biggest single source.  Wind accounted for 18% and gas 17% of the power mix respectively, compared with just 12% for coal at 333 TWh, Ember found.

The 475 TWh of power generated by wind across Europe was roughly equivalent to the demand of France. Solar power met 9% of Europe’s power needs, at 246 TWh.  

Potential boost for gas
“The big thing we’re going to see is that across this year, across next year, a quarter of the EU’s coal plants are going to close,” said Jones.

A rebound in demand and a closure of coal plants would likely offset much of the rise in renewable energy in the coming years, he said.

“What’s not clear is that whether that fall in fossil is big enough that gas generation is going to fall in aggregate as well,” he added. “It’s unclear what gas in aggregate will be doing in the next few years.”