Source: Wärtsilä
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European Responses to COVID-19 Accelerate Energy Transition by a Decade

April 27, 2020
Wärtsilä analysis finds coal-based power generation has fallen by 25.5%, with renewable energy reaching a 43% share.

Coal-based power generation has fallen by over a quarter (25.5%) across the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom in the first three months of 2020 compared with 2019, as a result of the response to COVID-19, with renewable energy reaching a 43% share, according to a new analysis by the technology group Wärtsilä.

The impact is even more stark in the last month, with coal generation collapsing by almost one-third (29%) between March 10 and April 10 compared with the same period in 2019, making up only 12% of total EU and U.K. generation. By contrast, renewables delivered almost half (46%) of generation — an increase of 8% compared with 2019.

In total, demand for electricity across the continent is down by one-tenth (10%) because of measures taken to combat COVID-19 — the biggest drop in demand since the Second World War. The result is an unprecedented fall in carbon emissions from the power sector, with emission intensity falling by almost 20% (19.5%) compared with the same March 10 to April 10 period last year.

Björn Ullbro, vice president for Europe and Africa at Wärtsilä Energy Business, said, "The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on European energy systems is extraordinary. We are seeing levels of renewable electricity that some people believed would cause systems to collapse, yet they haven't — in fact they are coping well. The question is, what does this mean for the future?"

The analysis comes from the Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab, a new, free-to-use, open-data platform developed by Wärtsilä to help the energy industry, policy makers, and the public understand the impact of COVID-19 on European electricity markets and analyze what this means for the future design and operation of its energy systems. The goal is to help accelerate the transition to 100% renewables.

"What we can see today is how our energy systems cope with much more renewable power — knowledge that will be invaluable to accelerate the energy transition. We are making this new platform freely available to support the energy industry to adapt and use the momentum this tragic crisis has created to deliver a better, cleaner energy system, faster," said Ullbro.

The figures mark a dramatic shift in Europe's energy mix — one that was not anticipated to occur until the end of the decade. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has effectively accelerated the energy transition in the short-term, providing a unique opportunity to see how energy systems function with far higher levels of renewables.

These Europe-wide impacts are mirrored at a national level. For example:

  • In the United Kingdom, renewables now have a 43% share of generation (up 10% in the same March 10 to April 10 period in 2019) with coal power down 35% and gas down 24%.
  • Germany has seen the share of renewables reach 60% (up 12%) and coal generation fall 44%, resulting in a fall in the carbon intensity of its electricity of over 30%.
  • Spain currently has 49% renewables with coal power down by 41%.
  • Italy has seen the steepest fall in demand, down 21% so far.

"Electricity demand across Europe has fallen because of the lockdown measures applied by governments to stop the spread of the coronavirus," said Ullbro. "However, total renewable generation has remained at pre-crisis levels with low electricity prices, combined with renewables-friendly policy measures, squeezing out fossil fuel power generation, especially coal. This sets the scene for the next decade of the energy transition."

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