Europe’s energy revolution marches on: one-third of power supply now renewable

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Solarpark Freden, Germany (photo Windwärts Energie)

Solarpark Freden, Germany (photo Windwärts Energie)

Fully one-third of electricity produced in Europe last year came from renewable energy, reports ENTSO-E (the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity). Four years ago this was just 24%. The increased share of renewables has come at the expense of fossil fuels. “There is a revolution taking place”, says Susanne Nies, Corporate Affairs Manager at ENTSO-E.

ENTSO-E’s annual overview of the European electricity market, Electricity in Europe 2014, which has recently been released, testifies to the steady expansion of renewables generation taking place in the EU electricity sector:

ENTSO-E net generation

Evolution of ENTSO-E net generation
(Source: ENTSO-E)

33% of electricity produced in the EU now comes from renewables, of which 18.5% is hydropower and 14.4% “other renewables” (mostly wind and solar power). In 2011 hydropower supplied 15.3% and other renewables just 9.3%. The share of fossil fuels has gone down from 48.6% in 2011 to 40.5% in 2014. Nuclear power has remained stable despite the German nuclear phase-out.

In terms of capacity the share of renewables is even higher, at 42%.

ENTSO-E capacity

Evolution  of ENTSO-E Net Generating Capacity
(Source: ENTSO-E)

And the growth of renewable generation has only really just begun, says Susanne Nies, Corporate Affairs Manager at ENTSO-E. “The EU has a target of 27% renewable energy in 2030, which translates into 46% renewable electricity. We should have no problem reaching that target. It’s a revolution that we’re seeing.”

How far can this revolution go? According to Nies, “80% is possible”, although she adds that to reach that, “the electricity system needs to change. The big issue is variability. We need more storage, more demand response, more e-mobility, data management, more cooperation between DSO’s (distribution system operators) and TSO’s (transmission system operators).In addition, we need market signals to attract investment. This is our main worry now.”  Nies says that ENTSO-E will come out with a ‘Vision Package’ on 24 June in which it will discuss its vision on the future of the European electricity system in more detail.

Political choices

The EU figures mask enormous differences in the energy mix per country. In wind energy generation, Denmark leads with a share of no less than 42.7%, followed by countries like Portugal (24.1%), Ireland (21.2%), Spain (19.1%), Northern Ireland (18.1%) and Lithuania (15.7%). By contrast countries like France (3.1%) and Norway (1.6%) have very little wind power. (There are no separate numbers for Scotland and England.)

With the increasing electrification of our energy system, we can expect consumption to rise again in the coming years

In solar power generation, Greece (9.5%) and Italy (8.7%) are market leaders, followed by Germany (6.3%) and Spain (4.9%). France (1.1%) and Portugal (1.2%) produce very small amounts of solar power.

Countries with over 60% in total renewable energy generation (hydro and other renewables put together) are Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal and Austria. Apart from Luxemburg and Cyprus, Hungary has the lowest share of renewables in the EU (6.6%), beating the Netherlands, which scored just 10.6% on the renewables sclae.

Countries that depend the most on fossil fuel generation are Poland (88.3%), Estonia (88%) and the Netherlands (83.6%). Germany still gets 55.8% of its electricity from fossil fuels, the UK 58.4%. Norway (2.4%), Sweden (2.3%), France (5%) and Switzerland (3%) are almost fossil-fuel free.

According to Nies, the differences between countries are largely a reflection of political choices. “For example, a country like Poland will have a hard time to get out ofcoal-fired power generation soon, as it has chosen to rely on this for its power. A country like France is lagging behind in renewables. This is the result of national energy strategies.”

Our new Maggie

The ENTSO-E figures show that there has been a steady increase in electricity exchanges (imports and exports) between EU countries. Exchanges have grown 16% since 2010. The countries with the largest ‘negative’ exchange balances (i.e. the balance between the energy phyisically flowing out of the country and the energy physically flowing in) were France (67.6%) and Germany (35.7%), whereas Italy (43.7%), the UK (19.2%) and Belgium (17.6%) had high ‘positive’ balances (more electricity coming in than going out).

Nevertheless, the further growth of renewable energy would greatly benefit from more interconnection and further integration between EU countries, says Nies. “For example, in Scandinavia, they have a large overcapacity and are wondering what plant to close next. Elsewhere there are shortages. If you don’t connect, you need to spend twice as much.”

Nies notes that the European Commission is making efforts to achieve a more unified approach in energy policy, for example through last year’s new state aid guidelines and the initatives Margrethe Vestager, head of the EU’s competition authorities (“our new Maggie”), is taking in the energy sector.

What about the fact that the European Commission last year approved the UK’s support package for the proposed new nuclear power reactors at Hinkley Point C? Opponents say this will greatly distort the level playing field in the EU electricity market and will have major repercussions. But Nies notes that “these reactors have not been built yet”.

Interconnections have particularly improved in North West Europe, for example between the Netherlands and Denmark, says Nies. Elsewhere there are still major limitations, e.g. between France and Spain, but also between Belgium and Germany, and inside Germany, where better North-South connections are “desperately” needed. The main bottleneck, says Claire Camus, ENTSO-E Communication Advisor, is not money, but permitting and public acceptance issues. “This is highlighted in ENTSO-E’s 10-year network development plan”.

Back up again

Another fact that jumps out from the Electricity in Europe report is the large decrease in electricity consumption in Europe: 2.4% compared to 2013. Electricity consumption has been steadily declining since the economic crisis, the ENTSO-E figures show:

ENTSO-E consumption

Electricity consumption EU
(Source: ENTSO-E)

Particularly striking is the large decline in consumption last year in Germany (-4.8%) and France (5.9%). By contrast, countries in Eastern Europe (Poland, Romania, Hungary) and the UK showed modest increases.

Should we be concerned about Europe’s lower electricity consumption or glad? According to Philippe Lagarrigue, data coordinator of ENTSO-E and lead author of the report, there are different reasons for the consumption declines. In France and elsewhere mild weather led to lower power use last year. The EU is also making improvements in energy efficiency, but at the same time it sees industries relocating to other regions.

Another reason for lower consumption as measured by the ENTSO-E is probably the increase in decentralised generation, particularly in Germany, which may not be reflected in the data the TSO’s have. “We need to explore this with the distribution system operators”, says Lagarrrigue.

In the long term, ENTSO-E expects electricity consumption to go back up again. “With the increasing electrification of our energy system, we can expect consumption to rise again in the coming years, notably due to the electrification of heating, cooling and transport and the growth in the use of information and communication technologies. They will eat up the efficiency gains made elsewhere. Experts expect that annual electricity consumption of the average 4-person household will increase from 3,500 kWh now to 5,000 kWh, ” says Nies. “We believe this process has already started.”

Comments

  1. Tom Kennedy says

    Why would you brag about the increases in renewables when one of the big drivers is the increased use of wood pellets. Most of the pellets come from eastern U.S. hardwood forests which are being destroyed so Europeans can think they are saving the planet. Any serious analysis shows this is an insane policy. If Europe wants to go all solar and continue to build thousands of wind farms so be it.
    Please stop the insane incentives for destroying US FORESTS!!

  2. says

    Hi Karel
    Please confirm whether we may include extracts from your article or the full article in our website energy blog.
    NZ has 80-85% renewables-based generation so the news from the EU is of relevance and interest to us as we continue to retire fossils based generation. We don’t have any nuclear power incidentally.
    Best regards
    Richard

    Richard Gardiner
    Managing Director

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