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Electrification in Europe

Electricity supply is the highest priority for almost every European country.

The war in Ukraine, which has reduced the entire region’s dependence on Russian fuel imports, has made energy and electricity supply the highest priority for almost every European country over the past year. This has resulted in acceleration of the energy transition for many European countries away from fossil fuels. However almost half of European countries still remain dependent on fossil fuels as primary source for electricity generation.

Electricity generation in Europe

Europe has steadily switched to renewable energy sources for electricity generation. Considerable progress has been made in this area over the past decade. Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) accounted for 49% of electricity production in the EU in 2011, while renewable energy sources accounted for only 18%. Ten years later, in 2021, renewable energy sources will be almost equal to fossil fuels: renewable energy sources account for 32% of electricity generation in the EU and fossil fuels will account for 36%.

Wind and solar energy

The main drivers behind this shift to renewable energy sources is the expansion of wind and solar generation. This increased from just 8% of electricity generation in the EU in 2011 to 19% in 2021. This may not seem like a big increase, but the EU’s share of wind and solar power generation ranks first alongside Oceania compared to other regions around the world.

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In addition, hydropower is the most common primary source of electricity generation in Europe. It plays an important role in providing renewable energy. Whereas nuclear is the largest single source of electricity generation in the EU and across Europe. Nuclear has declined in recent decades. In 2001, nuclear energy accounted for a third (33%) of electricity generation in the EU and fell to 25% over the next 20 years.

The primary electricity sources of Europe's largest countries

Most of Europe’s largest countries are still using fossil fuels as their largest primary source of electricity. Germany remains heavily dependent on coal energy, which generated 31% of the country’s electricity from 2017 to 2021. Despite the dependence on the carbon-intensive fossil fuel, the share of wind and solar energy generation in electricity generation is also growing. This is now 33%: 23% for wind energy and 10% for solar energy.

France is still heavily dependent on nuclear power, with nuclear power accounting for more than half of the country’s electricity production. Italy, the UK and the Netherlands are all mainly dependent on natural gas for their electricity generation from 2017 to 2021. Of these three countries, Italy is the most dependent on natural gas at 42%.  The Netherlands is second (40%) with UK as follow-up (38%).

Spain is the winner among the major European countries in the transition to renewable energy sources. In the period 2017-2021, Spain was mainly dependent on natural gas (29%). In 2022, the contribution of natural gas in electricity generation fell to 14%. Wind energy became the primary electricity generator with a share of 32%.

Accelerating the EU's energy transition

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy independence in the EU has become paramount. Countries have seized the opportunity to accelerate their transition to renewable energy sources.

A new report from Ember highlights how the transition has made significant progress in 2022, with solar and wind energy (22%) catching up with natural gas (20%) in electricity generation for the first time.

Although fossil fuel generation increased for the EU in 2022, it is expected to decrease by as much as 20% by 2023. If the EU can sustain this accelerated shift from fossil fuels, primary energy sources for electricity generation could include many more renewable and low-carbon energy sources in the near future.

Sources: IEA, Electricity Maps, Ember report, Nicolo Conte