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Land recultivation next to Boxberg coal-fired power plant.
Land recultivation next to Boxberg coal power plant, Germany. Credit: Thomas Liske.
EU EMISSIONS
25 January 2017 11:02

‘Huge’ coal-to-gas switch drives down EU power emissions

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

01.25.17
Simon Evans

Simon Evans

25.01.2017 | 11:02am
EU emissions‘Huge’ coal-to-gas switch drives down EU power emissions

Europe’s power-sector CO2 emissions fell 4.5% in 2016 after a “huge” switch from coal- to gas-fired generation, according to new analysis.

The figures are jointly published by the thinktanks Sandbag and Agora Energiewende today. They show coal generation across the EU falling by 94 terawatt hours (TWh), down 12% on a year earlier. Gas output was up 101TWh, a 20% increase (see chart, below).

Changes in the source of EU electricity generation in 2016 compared to 2015. Source: Analysis by Sandbag and Agora Energiewende.

Changes in the source of EU electricity generation in 2016 compared to 2015. Source: Analysis by Sandbag and Agora Energiewende.

The coal-to-gas switch was enough to reduce EU power-sector CO2 emissions by 4.5%, to 1,018m tonnes of CO2 in 2016, the analysis says.

Around half of the decrease in coal generation, and half the increase in gas, took place in the UK. Earlier this month, Carbon Brief analysis found UK coal generation fell below wind output in 2016. Germany and Spain each contributed around another 15% of the coal cut in 2016.

The coal to gas switch was driven equally by four factors, according to Sandbag and Agora. First, the closure of old coal plants in the UK. Second, the impact of the UK’s top up carbon tax, known as the carbon price floor. Third, a market response to cheaper gas prices and, fourth, gas filling in for falling output from nuclear and hydro.

It’s worth noting that while the story last year was one of coal-to-gas switching, in the longer term coal and gas have both declined, with reduced demand and low-carbon sources taking their place.

You can read more about how the EU power sector is changing in the full report from Agora and Sandbag. For instance, the renewable share of electricity generation in the UK increased by 17 percentage points between 2010 and 2016, the third-largest rise after Denmark (25 percentage points) and Lithuania (22).

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  • 'Huge' coal-to-gas switch drives down EU power emissions

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