Renewables in 2020 passed fossil fuels as the European Union’ s main source of power for the first time, said a new report that hailed a “landmark moment” for the bloc’s energy sector.

Wind, solar and other renewables accounted for 38% of power generated last year in the EU’ s 27 member states against 37% from fossil sources, said the study from research groups Ember and Agora Energiewende.

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Wind and photovoltaics between them accounted for one fifth of power, with the highest shares in Denmark (61%), Ireland (35%), Germany (33%) and Spain (29%).

'Landmark moment'

The “robust rise” of renewables came against a background of a 4% fall in total EU power demand amid the Covid pandemic.

Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst at Ember, said: “It is significant that Europe has reached this landmark moment at the start of a decade of global climate action.

“Rapid growth in wind and solar has forced coal into decline but this is just the beginning.

“Europe is relying on wind and solar to ensure not only that coal is phased out by 2030, but also to phase out gas generation, replace closing nuclear power plants, and to meet rising electricity demand from electric cars, heat pumps and electrolysers.”

The two think-tanks said the EU power mix is now 29% cleaner than in 2015, with carbon intensity at a record low last year of 226 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowhatt hour.

Coal generation slumped 20% last year to deliver 13% of Europe’s power, although gas held up better.

The study warned that, despite the progress of renewables, there is a long way to go for the EU to meet its climate and energy goals, including net-zero emissions by 2050.

While wind and solar output increased by 51 terawatt hours in 2020, “roughly a doubling is needed to reach the 100TWh of annual additions required for climate neutrality,” said Patrick Graichen, director of Agora Energiewende.

The National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) submitted by EU member states would only increase that figure to 75TWh per year by 2030, Graichen added.

(This article first appeared in Upstream's sister renewable energy publication Recharge on 25 January, 2021.)