Wind and solar power have accounted for a record 24% of the European Union’s electricity mix since Russia launched its war on Ukraine, a new report has found, a boost that has also helped the bloc fight back against runaway inflation.
According to a report published by climate think tanks E3G and Ember.
The rise in renewables comes as Europe attempts to wean itself off Russian gas, as Moscow cuts or even cuts off energy supplies to European nations to gain leverage in the conflict. The war has forced the EU to deal with its costly dependence on Russian gas, which in 2020 accounted for 41% of Europe’s fossil fuel imports.
Nineteen of the 27 EU member states have achieved record wind and solar output since March, according to the report.
Poland recorded the largest year-over-year percentage increase at 48.5%, while Spain recorded the largest absolute generation increase at 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh). Spain’s renewable generation alone avoided 1.7 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in imported gas costs.
Think tanks have warned, however, that there is still a long way to go to reach the bloc’s renewable energy potential. Fossil gas still accounted for around 20% of EU electricity during the same period, at a cost of around 82 billion euros ($80.7 billion).
“Wind and solar are already helping European citizens,” Chris Rosslowe, principal analyst at Ember, said in a statement. “But the future potential is even greater.”
Wind and solar energy generated 345 TWh of electricity in the EU from March to September this year, a record annual increase of 13%. Total renewable capacity would have been much higher if hydroelectricity had not fallen by 21% due to droughts this summer, which scientists say have been made worse by the man-made climate crisis.
The report’s key message is simply: “More renewables, less inflation.
Nevertheless, energy prices in Europe remain high. Gas restrictions imposed by Russia on Europe have resulted in “the largest inflationary shocks in Europe since World War II, surpassing that of the oil crisis of the 1970s”, the report said. In September 2022, energy costs increased by 40.8% compared to last year, which represents 36% of the EU headline inflation figures.
Some EU countries have announced fiscal support packages worth hundreds of billions of dollars in an attempt to curb this inflation, largely by subsidizing the use of fossil fuels for heating – but many businesses and households are still left with bills they cannot afford to pay.
The report warns that governments will not be able to maintain such expensive programs “to offset high fossil fuel prices over a long period of time”.
The EU has managed to fill its storage containers with gas to get through the winter, but questions have been raised over how the bloc will fill the void in the following warming season. According to the report’s authors, this makes it “even more important now to focus on measures that go beyond winter 2022/23”.
The rise of renewable energies followed the European Commission’s ‘RePowerEU’ proposal in May, which increased the target for renewables from 40% of the total energy mix by 2030 to 45%.