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Energy Thinktank Ember Reveals Record Falls in Fossil Fuel Use in the UK and EU For 2023

Energy Thinktank Ember Reveals Record Falls in Fossil Fuel Use in the UK and EU For 2023

Energy Think Tank

Last year saw an unprecedented fall in fossil fuel use in the EU (European Union) and the UK which led to a record drop in power sector emissions, according to a new report published by clean energy thinktank, Ember. The European Electricity Review revealed that EU and UK coal and gas power fell respectively by 19% and 16% in 2023.

The EU’s move away from fossil fuels was plain to see in 2023 with record drops in coal generation (-26%) as well as gas (-15%). This led to the largest fall ever recorded for EU power sector emissions (-19%), as wind and solar grew and electricity demand fell. Wind power generation (18%) overtook gas (17%) for the first time in 2023, meaning that more of Europe’s electricity came from wind power last year than fossil gas, another unparalleled statistic. 

Fossil fuel generation accounted for less than a third of EU power for the first time in 2023 dropping to a record 19%. Coal fell by 26% to its lowest-ever level at 333 TWh, or 12% of the EU’s electricity generation. Coal’s decline did not result in a rise in gas which might have been expected but instead fell by 15%, the largest annual reduction since at least 1990 and the fourth consecutive year of gas generation decline. 


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Ember’s Europe programme director, Sarah Brown said:

"Europe is entering a new era of energy transition, with the cleanest power sectors ever in the UK and the EU last year. The EU’s power sector is in the middle of a monumental shift. Fossil fuels are playing a smaller role than ever as a system with wind and solar as its backbone comes into view."

Ember’s latest annual review is full of positive statistics about the EU’s energy transition. 

Recently Brussels has recommended that the EU targets a 90% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 to ensure climate neutrality is reached by 2050. Making this a reality would involve a massive deployment of renewable systems, the total abolition of coal, and the almost total disappearance of gas from the EU bloc’s energy system. 

Pieter de Pous, Programme Leader at the E3G think tank said: 

“The EU led a big push last year at COP28 to commit the world to phase out fossil fuels. These 2023 power market data show this wasn’t just talk with the EU making very significant progress at home in moving to a fossil-free power system with cheap renewables eliminating demand for coal and gas, permanently.”

Progress made during 2023 constituted a good start towards this goal. Wind and solar combined achieved their highest year-on-year increases in generation and installed capacity at 90 TWh and 73 GW. Jointly they produced a record 27% of EU electricity in 2023, above a quarter for the first time. Wind generated 18% of EU power, or 475 TWh, equivalent to France’s total generation demand. Solar continued its strong growth to generate 9% of EU electricity (246 TWh). With hydropower recovering from the lows of 2022 renewables rose to a record 44% share of EU power overall in 2023.

Ember’s analysis showed that 24% of hours in 2023 saw less than a quarter of electricity coming from fossil fuels, a sizeable step up from just 4% of hours in 2022. The EU also paid greater attention to system-wide enablers for wind and solar growth in 2023 such as grids, storage, and demand-side response. 

Similarly, the UK saw power sector emissions fall, with a 16% decrease driven by record wind generation of 82 TWh and a significant drop in gas generation of 20% (-25 TWh). Demand also fell by 2% to 317 TWh in 2023, its lowest level since 1989.

The UK also reported record clean power generation with wind and solar accounting for 33% of the total, the highest combined levels ever, up from 29% in 2022. A fall in gas generation at the same time led to clean power being pushed over the 60% share mark which was a first. This was due to wind achieving a record generation share of 28%, equal to Germany, and only overtaken in the EU by Denmark, Ireland, and Portugal. Solar power accounted for just 4.6% of UK electricity which is half of the EU’s average of 9.1%. 

There was more than one factor that contributed to this clean energy shift. There was a fall in electricity demand as well as rising wind and solar power installations last year. 

Sarah Brown said:

"We're seeing, record capacity installations in the EU for both wind and solar annual additions and also an increase in generation and increase in their share. We saw an acceleration in the wanting to move towards clean power renewables as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When we saw really high skyrocketing gas prices and the energy crisis that ensued as a result of that, then we saw that extra urgency applied to that transition that we needed anyway."

Ember’s analysts also attributed falling electricity demand to the “unprecedented collapse” in coal and gas generation as the energy crisis continues to squeeze demand.

Clean power growth is not completely responsible for the EU’s drop in fossil fuel generation. The EU’s electricity demand fell by 3.4% (-94 TWh) in 2023 compared to 2022 and 6.4% (-186 TWh) compared to 2021 levels when the energy crisis began. 
Ember links just over a third (38%) of this longer-term drop to a fall in industrial electricity consumption. This would include energy-intensive sectors like iron and steel, chemicals, and paper that were likely hit by higher gas prices. On top of that mild weather, energy savings, and efficiency also played a part in less electricity being needed. 

However, Europe’s power demand is expected to rise again soon, as electrification takes off through heat pumps and EVs. The rate of demand fall seen in 2023 is unlikely to be repeated in the coming years as electrification increases. 
Three million heat pumps and three million electric cars have been sold in the EU since 2021. Combined with 500 MW of electrolysers, this green tech surge has added an estimated 1.3% to the EU’s overall electricity demand in the last couple of years.

Ember’s Global Insights Director Dave Jones said:

“As electrification takes off through more heat pumps, electric vehicles, and electrolysers, the EU will enter a new era of rising electricity demand. Renewables will need to keep pace with that demand increase in order to deliver the emissions cuts needed for a safe climate.”

Ember’s analysis shows that if EU targets are to be met, solar and wind growth needs to be accelerating. The REPowerEU plan forecasts 55% of power coming from wind and solar by 2030, nearly doubling from 27% in 2023. 
Although solar grew by a substantial 56 GW of additional capacity in 2023 when compared to 41 GW in 2022, it failed to match its 2022 year-on-year generation growth. Despite wind generation growth being strong in 2023 at 13%, it needs to increase by 155 every year until 2030 if it is to meet REPowerEU targets. 

Sarah Brown said:

“The energy crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine did not lead to coal and gas resurgence, far from it.  Coal is nearing phase-out, and as wind and solar grow, gas will be next to enter terminal decline. However, it is not time to get complacent. The EU needs a laser focus on rapidly deploying wind, solar, and flexibility to create a system free of fossil fuels’ risks.” 

Ember’s report notes that though there were significant steps made toward the clean transition in 2023, the expected growth of electrification across all sectors and bigger electricity demand in the near future will need to be met with a continuous step-up in renewables if the EU’s and UK’s climate goals are to be achieved.


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Janet Richardson

Janet is an accomplished director and writer at The Renewable Energy Hub. Janet has worked at a senior level at a number of publishing companies and is an authority on renewable energy topics. Janet is passionate about sustainable living and renewable energy solutions, dedicated to promoting eco-friendly practices and creating a vibrant community of eco-conscious individuals and businesses seeking sustainable energy solutions.


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