Europe: renewable energy overtook fossil fuels in 2020

Europe: renewable energy overtook fossil fuels in 2020

Last year, for the first time, energy generated from renewables overtook fossil fuels as the main source of electricity in the European Union, marking an important milestone in Europe’s clean energy transition.

The European Union’s path towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 – an objective also shared by the Volkswagen Group – is a long one, and will require a continuous evolution in the use of resources, technology development and infrastructure management.

Last year a crucial stage on Europe’s journey towards sustainable electricity was reached: in 2020, for the first time, renewable energy overtook energy produced from fossil fuels. This landmark is described in the 2021 Ember Report, compiled with Agora Energiewende. The report tracks and analyses electricity production across every European country.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy production increased to account for 38% of Europe’s electricity in 2020 (compared to 34.6% in 2019), overtaking fossil-fired generation (which fell to 37%) for the first time.

This marks an important milestone in Europe’s clean energy transition, although more needs to be done to achieve the medium-term objective of a 55% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. Covid-19 had a limited impact, with a reassuring rise in renewable energies despite the pandemic.

Wind and solar on the rise

More in-depth, in 2020 wind generation rose 9% compared to 2015 and solar generation rose 3% (also compared to 2015). Together they accounted for a fifth of European electricity generated in 2020 (wind: 14%, solar: 9%). European growth in renewables has been driven entirely by these two sources: the contribution from bioenergy has stalled and hydroelectric power remains unchanged.

In any case, to achieve the 2030 European Green Deal targets the share of energy from wind and solar must almost triple. The average growth in renewables targeted for 2020-2030 is 100 TWh per year – that’s a significant step up from the 38 TWh per year average growth set for 2010-2020. It is, however, encouraging that wind and solar increased by 51 TWh in 2020.


Coal, gas and nuclear fall

The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts record wind and solar capacity growth in 2021. Despite this, European countries still need to considerably step up their commitments for 2030. Currently, national energy and climate plans add up to about 72 TWh additional wind and solar power per year.

At the same time, coal generation fell 20% in 2020 and has halved since 2015 – a trend repeated across almost every country. Gas generation fell by 4% in 2020, while nuclear energy tumbled by 10% – the largest drop ever recorded.

This meant that, overall, Europe’s electricity in 2020 was 29% cleaner than in 2015. Carbon dioxide emissions, meanwhile, fell from 317 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour in 2015 to 226 grams in 2020.

The Volkswagen Group

The Volkswagen Group is fully aligned with the climate objectives established by the Paris Climate Agreement, and has laid out a decarbonisation strategy that will see it become carbon neutral by 2050. At the heart of the strategy is electric mobility, which ensures a better carbon footprint across the entire lifecycle than other technologies.

The objective is to make e-mobility accessible to as many people as possible: by 2030, the German Group will have brought to market 70 fully electric models. Many of its production sites – including those producing battery cells – only use electricity from renewable sources, and the conversion process will continue over the next few years until all its facilities operate in the same way. Emissions that are currently unavoidable are offset through climate protection projects.

The Group’s transition to electric mobility takes an all-round approach which goes beyond car and battery production; it also encompasses the development of charging infrastructure and the supply of green electricity (in Germany) and charging solutions through subsidiary Elli.

Source: The European Power Sector in 2020 - Report Ember

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