Chart: Wind and solar are closing in on fossil fuels in the EU

European grids are getting cleaner, fast. In 2023, wind overtook gas generation, coal plummeted, renewables rose at a record rate — and electricity emissions fell.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

The cleanest sources of electricity could soon make up the largest share of electricity generation in the European Union. Wind and solar made huge strides last year, producing more than one-quarter of the EU’s electricity for the first time, while fossil fuel generation plummeted. Power-sector emissions fell by a record 19 percent in the region last year.

According to Ember’s European Electricity review, this record-setting level of renewable energy was mostly driven by growth in solar and wind, which each saw their largest-ever capacity additions.

Solar electricity generation grew by 36 terawatt-hours in 2023, reaching 9 percent of the EU’s total electricity generation. But wind is leading the energy transition in Europe. In 2023, the region added 55 TWh of wind, growing to 18 percent of generation and, in a major milestone, surpassed gas generation for the first time.

European countries also saw examples of renewables-heavy power systems working reliably last year. In May, Spain ran on 100 percent renewables for nine hours; in October, Greece did the same for five hours. In November, Portugal ran on 100 percent renewables for 149 hours — or six days in a row.

Hydropower and nuclear generation also rebounded from lows in 2022, pushing overall carbon-free electricity to more than two-thirds of the EU’s electricity makeup. Over the same timeframe, fossil fuel generation fell by a record 19 percent. It now generates just one-third of the region’s power. Coal plummeted by a record 26 percent last year as more plants shuttered, while gas — which has been declining for the past four years — also saw a sharp 15 percent drop.

Looking ahead, the power sector will need to nearly double the current share of renewable generation if it is to keep up with both emissions-reduction goals and the EU’s legally mandated Renewable Energy Directive. The latter requires all member states to produce at least 42.5 percent of their power from renewables by 2030.

In other words, the upward trajectory of renewables in Europe is going to keep growing.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.