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  • Giorgos Pismisis

Renewables Overtook Fossil Fuels in Electricity Generation in 2020, for the First Time Ever

For the first time in history, renewable energy accounted for 38% of EU electricity generation in 2020, overtaking fossil fuels.

Renewables vs fossil fuels. (Photo: William Potter /

Renewable energy accounted for 38% of EU electricity generation in 2020, because of rising wind and solar energy and a steady decline in coal.

With 38%, renewable energy sources produced more than coal and gas (27%) and nuclear (25%). The increase in renewables is mainly due to wind and solar energy, producing 14% and 5% of electricity in the European Union, respectively. Together they achieved the 1/5 of all energy production. The rest of the share of renewables (19%) was supplied mainly by bioenergy and hydropower. Bioenergy plays an important role as it is accounts for 58.9% of the renewable energy consumption in EU-27 according to Eurostat*, but it remained stable for electricity production over the last few years.

According to Dave Jones, Ember’s senior electricity analyst, "At the beginning of the ten-year effort on climate change, it is gratifying that Europe is already taking steps towards the dominance of 'green' energy.” He added, "The rapid growth of wind and solar energy has led to a reduction in coal use, but this is just the beginning,"

(Photo: Ember/Agora Energiewende)

Acceleration of electricity generation from renewables is a must if EU is to meet decarbonization goals

This important achievement was another step towards achieving the goals set by the European Union. As shown in the diagram, 2019 was the first time solar and wind energy overtook coal in electricity production. The rise of renewables and the reduction of coal and gas means that compared to 2015, electricity production in Europe was 29% cleaner.

(Photo: Ember/Agora Energiewende)

Europe's new climate plan presupposes a "transformation" of energy.

The EU has already set a binding target of increasing the share of renewable energy sources to 32% of the total energy mix by 2030, up from just under 20% currently. However, this target will have to be increased to around 38-40% in order to meet the updated targets for 2030.

According to the European Commission, meeting the EU’s proposed new climate targets for 2030 will require a “transformation” of the bloc’s energy system, with a renewed focus on renewables and further efforts to cut fossil fuels in transport, buildings, and industry.

The capacity of wind and solar increased by 51 terawatt hours (well above the average) in 2020, but it will need to increase by 100 TWh annually to meet the EU’s new climate goals.

Below are some of the highlights of the past decade for electricity production:

· There are also huge discrepancies between EU member states. While Denmark generated 62% of its electricity from wind and solar last year (double the share of second-placed Ireland) its market remains relatively small, at 18 TWh.

· According to Ember, seven countries (Romania, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, and Bulgaria) have barely seen any growth since 2015.

· Spain and the Netherlands had the greatest decrease of coal in the energy mix, reducing it by half. However, Poland only reduced it by 8%.

· Coal continued to collapse, diving by 20% in 2020, and halving since 2015. However, natural gas, only fell by 4%, helped by “a robust carbon price” which made it “the cheapest form of fossil generation,”. The 50% of the decline in coal is attributed to renewables while the other half was due to falling demand caused by the COVID crisis.

In conclusion, the European Union will have to focus more on clean energy production in the coming years in order to achieve its goals, which will require a bloc-wide effort by all member states.

*Eurostat is the statistical office of the European Union, responsible for publishing high-quality Europe-wide statistics and indicators that enable comparisons between countries and regions.

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