EU coal generation down 30% since 2012

Lignite mine in Germany photo
CC BY-SA 2.0 Sludge G

It dropped 6% in 2018 alone, and there's reason to believe the phase-out will accelerate.

We've been pretty vocal here at TreeHugger about the need to rapidly decarbonize our economies. Yet, in some ways, it's the lack of progress so far that makes me hopeful about how much we could achieve.

Hear me out:

We know that the UK has seen a dramatic drop in coal use, and lower emissions as a result. There are tentative signs that similar transitions are beginning to get underway elsewhere, but by comparison, they have barely even started.

A new report from thinktank Sandbag on the state of European energy policy outlines—despite the fact that coal generation has already fallen 30% since 2012— just how much low-hanging fruit still remains to be seized:

Specifically, it's worth noting that even a full three-quarters of Europe's hard coal generation capacity is either already subject to a specific phase-out date or, in the case of Spain and Germany, one that will soon be announced. In other words, we can fully expect the reasonably impressive progress made so far to accelerate as national phase-out policies kick into gear, and as renewables start to fully compete on price with their dirtier fossil fueled counterparts.

And the best part? According to Sandbag power analyst Dave Jones, the drop in coal use and falling emissions is mostly attributable to renewables, not natural gas.

“Europe is proving that replacing coal generation with renewable generation is the fastest way to cut emissions. In just six years, between 2012 and 2018, Europe’s annual CO2 emissions from coal power plants have fallen by 250 million tonnes with no increase in emissions from power generation with natural gas."

There is, however, no reason for Europe to rest on its laurels. While the hard coal phase-out gathers pace, dirtier soft coal (lignite) generation has barely shifted. At least not yet. Germany's coal phase out will, apparently, include lignite, but much of the early retirements will come in the form of hard coal generation capacity.

You can check out the full European Power Sector in 2018 report via Sandbag's website. It's a tale of both significant progress and much work that still needs to be done. I find the fact that Europe has already cut emissions so much through clearly patchy and inadequate efforts to be surprisingly encouraging. Imagine what we could achieve once nations truly get serious about the transition that must inevitably be made.

EU coal generation down 30% since 2012
It dropped 6% in 2018 alone, and there's reason to believe the phase-out will accelerate.

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