One year ago, on the cusp of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seemed unimaginable that renewable energy in Europe could overtake electricity from oil and gas.
But not even a year later, it did. By the end of 2022, wind and solar combined overtook natural gas in electricity generation. The latest data on Europe’s renewable transition tells a remarkably upbeat story about the hard things countries can accomplish on climate change with enough political will.
Before the Russia-Ukraine war, 40 percent of natural gas and 27 percent of oil imports to Europe came from Russia, and Europe lacked pipelines and terminals in locations that could distribute gas from other parts of the world like the US. After sanctions on Russian oil and gas, instability led to high price shocks, fuel shortages, and a brief uptick in coal usage this winter.
But the worst fears did not materialize, either. The risk was that the EU would fill the gap left by Russian sanctions with coal, the most polluting fossil fuel. And while coal did briefly make a comeback — fossil fuel generation rose last year by 3 percent — it was a temporary increase.
Meanwhile, solar energy especially is on an “unstoppable” track of growth, explained Dave Jones, an analyst at the global energy think tank Ember. Solar capacity in Europe doubled since 2018, and is on track to triple in the next four years. [Continue reading…]