EU smashes renewable records as it urgently breaks free of Russian fossil fuels

Since Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, European Union member states have been feverishly reworking their energy policies to reduce their reliance on Russian gas, coal, and oil. To help accelerate the shift, energy developers are rapidly increasing investments in solar and wind power. This summer, solar, helping the EU tackle not only its energy problem but also soaring inflation. According to a new report by climate think tank Ember, about a quarter of the EU’s electricity now comes from just wind and solar. Combined,  Lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reviews how clean domestic energy is saving EU ratepayers money while helping slow global climate change.

Solar power supports the EU’s renewables-expansion. (Photo by Bernd Sieker, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Record solar summer saves EU €29bn in gas imports

The European Union enjoyed a record-shattering amount of solar power generation this summer, saving the continent from exorbitant energy prices and even higher reliance on climate-damaging fossil fuels. And as many EU member states search for ways to avoid buying Russian energy supplies, the sun is proving a steadfast partner.

Solar panels produced about 12% of the EU’s electricity from May to August, power that would have cost as much as 29 billion euros ($28.9 billion) had it been produced by gas-burning plants, according to an analysis by climate think-tank Ember.

Without the record 99 TWh of solar electricity generation during the peak summer months, the EU would have had to purchase an additional 20 billion cubic centimeters (bcm) of fossil gas.

Based on the average daily gas prices for May to August, Ember’s study found this equates to avoided gas costs of €29 billion.

Additionally, the year-on-year growth in solar power of 22 TWh displaced some four bcm of fossil gas, saving fuel buyers over €6 billion.

Ember’s figures underscore the crucial role that renewable energy sources are playing as Europe works to cut reliance on imported and polluting fuels in the coming months and years.

“Investments in solar capacity have paid off,” said Pawel Czyzak, analyst at Ember. “Every terawatt hour of solar electricity helped reduce our gas consumption, saving billions for European citizens. It’s clear that we need as much solar power as we can get.”

“Every megawatt of energy generated by solar and renewables is fewer fossil fuels we need from Russia. Solar offers direct energy price relief to European households and industries, said Dries Acke Policy Director at SolarPower Europe.

Solar capacity surges across EU

Developers are constructing new solar farms across Europe at an unprecedented pace.

Demand started surging while the continent suffered from a blistering heat wave which pushed demand for cooling in 2022.

With much of France’s nuclear reactors shut for maintenance, relentless heat and drought conditions dried up vital waterways, many of which support hydro power. And as rivers like the Rhine dried up, shiploads of coal and gas were delayed, causing further price spikes and fears of shortages.

Quicker and easier to install than wind, last summer, according to Ember, solar generation amounts broke records in 18 out of 27 EU countries.

The largest increase in solar generation since 2018 was in Poland, which increased solar generation 26 times, followed by 5-fold increases in Finland and Hungary and 4-fold rises in Lithuania and the Netherlands.

In terms of the largest share of solar, the Netherlands is leading the race for the second year in a row, scoring a 23% solar share in the power mix.

10 EU Member States generated over a tenth of their electricity from solar panels during the summer of 2022. The highest share was in the Netherlands (23%), followed by Germany (19%) and Spain (17%).

Eighteen EU countries set a new solar record share during the summer peak this year: Austria (2.4%), Belgium (12.8%), Cyprus (13.3%), Czechia (5.1%), Denmark (12.9%), Estonia (13.9%), France (7.7%), Germany (19.3%), Greece (15.3%), Hungary (14.7%), Italy (15.0%), Netherlands (22.7%), Poland (8.1%), Portugal (9.3%), Romania (3.8%), Slovakia (3.4%), Slovenia (3.1%), and Spain (16.7%).

Germany adds 3.8 GW of PV capacity during first half of 2022

During the first half of 2022, all forms of renewable energy accounted for 49% of German power consumption, up 6% percentage points from a year earlier.

Both higher sunshine intensity and increased wind speeds propelled record amounts of clean generation said utility industry association BDEW and the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW) in a statement published earlier this year.

Facing a national energy emergency, in the first six months of 2022, Germany added 3.8 GW of new solar PV capacity to its grid, up sharply from the 2.75 GW added during that same time period in 2021.

According to PV Magazine, in just June alone, 612 MW of solar power came online, bringing the nation’s cumulative operational PV capacity to almost 60GW by mid-year.

Clear indicator

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the war in Ukraine and the by Russian leaders, energy prices set records through most of the summer.

As Ember relates, the European benchmark TTF day ahead price settled at an all-time high of €313/MWh on 29 August and recorded an average of €148/MWh from May to August. This represents a surge of €110/MWh compared with the same period in 2021 when the price was €38/MWh.

With the war continuing to rage and energy supplies still uncertain, gas prices for this winter contract (Winter 22/23) were up to nine times higher at €242/MWh than they were last year when prices were just €28/MWh.

Energy economists fear the effects of the global shake up in energy supplies could sustain or even spike already skyrocketing fossil fuel prices for several years to come.

In that sense, the incredible rate of renewable deployment so far this year is a clear indicator of the vital role solar needs to play in Europe’s evolving power mix.

Though the recent wave of records are clearly positive, going forward, the EU needs to make an even bigger push towards 2030 by reducing permitting barriers, increasing funding and accelerating solar deployment speeds.

While clearly ramping up the rate of solar and renewable deployment is essential for helping us to have a chance at holding global heating to just 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century, more immediately, renewables are today ensuring the security of the continent.


L. Michael Buchsbaum is an energy and mining journalist and industrial photographer based in Germany. Since the mid-1990s, he has covered the social, environmental, economic and political impacts of the transition from fossil fuels towards renewables for dozens of industry magazines, journals, institutions and corporate clients. Born in the U.S., he emigrated to Germany and Europe to better document the Energiewende. He is also the host of The Global Energy Transition Podcast.

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