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January 30, 2019

Europe’s transition from hard coal to renewables accelerating: Report

Renewable energy is on the increase in the European Union (EU), but lignite coal is proving more difficult to phase out than hard coal, according to The European Power Sector in 2018 report.

By Jack Unwin

Renewable energy is on the increase in the European Union (EU), but lignite coal is proving more difficult to phase out than hard coal, according to The European Power Sector in 2018 report.

The report, by climate think tanks Sandbag and Agora Energiewende, finds that the EU’s total coal power generation fell by 6% in 2018 and is 30% below 2012 levels. Most of the reduction was due to a large decrease in hard coal production, whereas ‘dirtier’ lignite production fell only 3% in 2018 and 13% since 2012.

Half of the lignite produced in the EU was in Germany, which has recently declared it will phase out all coal production by 2038. However, the report notes that Germany will phase out lignite at a slower pace than hard coal, and other countries with high lignite generation like Poland and the Czech Republic “are not only slow to discuss their lignite transition, but they also have very unambitious plans for future wind and solar expansion.”

Hard coal and lignite formed 19.2% of the EU’s energy mix in 2018, a decrease from 20.5% in 2017.

Solar power accounted for 3.9% of the EU’s energy consumption in 2018, but the report authors state that they expect solar “will be the next big thing.”

Solar module prices decreased by 29% in 2018 and solar additions stood at 10GW in 2018 and could triple to 30GW by 2022. National plans for solar were made by several EU countries. France plans to increase its solar capacity to 45GW, Italy 50GW and Spain up to 77GW by 2030.

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Wind generation increased by 6%, with 14.4GW being installed in 2018. The report notes that this growth was mostly in Northwestern Europe, as 90% of the new installations were built in Germany, France and the UK. Thirteen EU countries did not install any new wind turbines in the first half of 2018.

In total, renewable energy made up 32.3% of the EU’s energy mix in 2018, an increase from 30% in 2017.

Sandbag European power analyst Dave Jones said: “Europe is proving that replacing coal generation with renewable generation is the fastest way to cut emissions […] But it’s a tale of two coals: most of the fall is from hard coal, and not dirtier lignite. Europe’s phase-out of hard coal is gathering pace, but Europe phase-out of lignite is only just beginning.”

Agora Energiewende head of European energy policy Matthias Buck said: “The EU so far largely missed the opportunity to profit from the very favourable solar module prices, which mean that solar power from new plants is often cheaper than electricity from conventional power plants. On the positive side, however, three countries – Spain, France and Italy – are now aiming for solar outputs of 45GW and more. This makes the potential very clear and will set an example.”

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