Decoding Europe’s energy crisis

Solar and wind energy have so far shielded Europe from the very worst of the energy crisis. But European countries are still scouring the planet for expensive fossil fuels, when it’s clear that investing in renewable energy solutions and energy savings is what will bring permanent reductions to people’s bills, and help deliver the peace, energy security and safer climate we all want. No wonder 87% of Europeans think “the EU should invest massively in renewable energies”.

Solar and wind are a core part of our energy system and their cost-advantage over coal and fossil gas is increasing.

Production interruptions in nuclear and hydro generation have exacerbated Europe’s energy crisis.

Europe’s energy crisis is a fossil fuel crisis

There is no doubt: Europe’s energy crisis is a fossil fuel crisis at heart. The economic fallout of the COVID-19 lockdowns, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the effects of climate change have sent energy prices skyrocketing, leaving European consumers with massive bills as a consequence of spiralling prices across all energy markets. Reliance on these volatile, damaging fuels, and the regimes that supply them have created this mess. The fastest, fairest, and most secure way out is investing heavily in energy savings and power sources that do not require fuel.

Read More

 

Solar and wind to the rescue

Until recently, the EU imported approximately 40 percent of its fossil gas from Russia, as well as significant amounts of coal and oil. These numbers have now collapsed, as European countries rightly push to end purchases of Russian fossil fuels that help fund Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This, combined with a steep decline in power generation from hydro due to drought, and nuclear due to technical issues, has left European countries looking high and low for new sources of energy. Thankfully, we don’t need to search beyond our own borders: solar and wind energy leapt by 58 TWh between January and August 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, compensating for the drop-off in other sources. But had Europe been more ambitious, not remained cosy with fossil energy companies, and doubled down on solar and wind, there could have been no need for the 60 TWh of power generated by coal and fossil gas over the same period, and Europeans would not be facing unaffordable bills.

We can’t keep making the same mistakes

Sadly, rather than learning from these mistakes and urgently investing in cheap renewable energy solutions that would match affordable energy supplies with demand, many European governments are engaged in a scramble for ever-more expensive fossil fuels. These often come from far-flung places of similarly authoritarian tendencies to Russia and are rightly being phased out in Europe because of their environmental impacts (coal), or have previously been overlooked (LPG) because they are so expensive

More fossil fuels equals higher bills and greater vulnerability

Renewables have been economically competitive for many years. There is no economic (or any other) justification for new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, such as LNG terminals which would lock consumers into unnecessarily expensive sources of energy with vulnerable supply chains that will inevitably become stranded assets.

Those that caused the crisis are profiting from it

Similarly, throwing billions of euros of public money onto a bonfire of oil and fossil gas subsidies is not only unsustainable, but actively takes money that should be spent on long term renewable and efficiency solutions, and hands it to fossil fuel companies already making massive windfall profits.

Renewable solutions are THE route out of the energy crisis

Past failures to properly invest in renewable energy solutions, combined with emergency measures based upon extortionate fossil fuels have left Europeans facing stark choices, such as between heating and eating. While some emergency fossil fuel measures are necessary to ensure that there is enough heating and power this winter, this is not a viable long term strategy, either from an economic or climate perspective. Rapidly building new renewable energy infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency, and making energy savings remains the only short and long term strategy for escaping the energy crisis.

Read More
Solar and wind to the rescue

Until recently, the EU imported approximately 40 percent of its fossil gas from Russia, as well as significant amounts of coal and oil. These numbers have now collapsed, as European countries rightly push to end purchases of Russian fossil fuels that help fund Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This, combined with a steep decline in power generation from hydro due to drought, and nuclear due to technical issues, has left European countries looking high and low for new sources of energy. Thankfully, we don’t need to search beyond our own borders: solar and wind energy leapt by 58 TWh between January and August 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, compensating for the drop-off in other sources. But had Europe been more ambitious, not remained cosy with fossil energy companies, and doubled down on solar and wind, there could have been no need for the 60 TWh of power generated by coal and fossil gas over the same period, and Europeans would not be facing unaffordable bills.

We can’t keep making the same mistakes

Sadly, rather than learning from these mistakes and urgently investing in cheap renewable energy solutions that would match affordable energy supplies with demand, many European governments are engaged in a scramble for ever-more expensive fossil fuels. These often come from far-flung places of similarly authoritarian tendencies to Russia and are rightly being phased out in Europe because of their environmental impacts (coal), or have previously been overlooked (LPG) because they are so expensive.

More fossil fuels equals higher bills and greater vulnerability

Renewables have been economically competitive for many years. There is no economic (or any other) justification for new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, such as LNG terminals which would lock consumers into unnecessarily expensive sources of energy with vulnerable supply chains that will inevitably become stranded assets.

Those that caused the crisis are profiting from it

Similarly, throwing billions of euros of public money onto a bonfire of oil and fossil gas subsidies is not only unsustainable, but actively takes money that should be spent on long term renewable and efficiency solutions, and hands it to fossil fuel companies already making massive windfall profits.

Renewable solutions are THE route out of the energy crisis

Past failures to properly invest in renewable energy solutions, combined with emergency measures based upon extortionate fossil fuels have left Europeans facing stark choices, such as between heating and eating. While some emergency fossil fuel measures are necessary to ensure that there is enough heating and power this winter, this is not a viable long term strategy, either from an economic or climate perspective. Rapidly building new renewable energy infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency, and making energy savings remains the only short and long term strategy for escaping the energy crisis.

Temporary emergency coal measures announced since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine

28 December 2022
28 December 2022

At the end of 2020, Pljevlja power plant had exhausted its 20,000 operating hours quota for the 2018-2023 period as established in the European Union’s Large Combustion Plants Directive. The plant was still operating illegally until the Montenegrin government amended its IED law in 2022.

28 December 2022
28 December 2022

The Romanian government prolonged operations of two coal plant units, Rovinari 3 and Turceni 7, from the end of 2022 to October 2023. The two units have 660 MW in capacity.

1 December 2022
1 December 2022

To implement a deal made between state and federal government and energy company RWE, the German parliament passed a law to shut down 3 lignite plants (3GW) in 2030 instead of 2038 and extend the operations of two plants (1.2 GW) from 2022 to 2024. This expedites the lignite exit in NRW from 2038 to 2030.

15 November 2022
15 November 2022

Spanish utility Endesa has reactivated unit 1 of its AS Pontes coal plant and plans to refire unit 2 at the beginning of 2023, at the request of Spain’s ministry for the ecological transition.

8 November 2022
8 November 2022

Poland’s minister for state assets says the country will slow the phase out of its coal mines, but that the government’s end date for all coal mining in Poland remains 2049.

3 October 2022
3 October 2022

France’s government removes cap that limited its 1260MW Cordemais coal plant from operating more than 700 hours per year. 

1 October 2022
1 October 2022

The Danish government orders Ørsted to continue operating its 407 MW Esbjerg 3 coal unit, which had been scheduled to close in March 2023, and to resume operations at its 380 MW Studstrup 4 coal unit, which closed in  2016. Both are now due to operate until June 2024.

21 September 2022
21 September 2022

The Finance Committee of Odense, Denmark is extending operations of the Fjernvarme Fyn power plant from its originally scheduled end in December 2022 until spring 2024. The Odense government still maintains their 2030 climate neutrality goal.”

13 September 2022
13 September 2022

All four units of Uniper’s 543 MW Ratcliffe coal plant will continue to operate beyond September 2022 until the UK’s 2024 coal exit deadline.

15 July 2022
15 July 2022

The Hungarian government has published an emergency decree, which says that the country will increase the domestic production of lignite, the timeline and scope of which is unclear, and restore to production all units at the country’s Matra coal plant and ensure that production continues. This constitutes a structural development of coal, as restoring the units will require significant investment, while more workers will be required for this and to increase lignite production. Should Matra be restored, it will breach the LCP BREF through the operation of Block II.

16 September 2022
16 September 2022

Finnish utility Fortum is preparing its Meri-Pori coal power plant to re-enter service.

7 September 2022
7 September 2022

The Italian government has issued a regulation authorising non-gas power plants (i.e. coal-fired power plants among others) to operate at higher capacity until March 2023. Italy has a 2025 coal phase out. 

8 July 2022
8 July 2022

Germany passes a package of energy laws that include provisions to allow for the reactivation or extended lifespans of coal-fired power, the goal of a renewables-based power sector by 2030, and a commitment to phase out coal by 2030.

6 July 2022
6 July 2022
30 June 2022
30 June 2022

Czech state-owned mining company OKD will continue mining hard coal in the north-east of the country until at least the end of 2023 – with the possibility to extend to 2025 – scrapping earlier plans to halt mining in 2022. Coal operator CEZ extends the lifespan of its Detmarovice coal plant (600 MW), which sources its coal from OKD. Detmarovice had been scheduled to retire in the spring of 2023. 

26 June 2022
26 June 2022

The French government says it is “keeping open the possibility” of refiring its 647 MW Emile Huchet coal plant this winter

25 June 2022
25 June 2022

The operator of the Italy’s national grid has asked Italian utility A2A to prepare its 336 MW Monfalcone coal plant for operation, citing Shortfalls in supplies of Russian gas and a 60% fall in hydroelectric power production from the company’s plants in Friuli and Venezia Giulia due to extensive drought in the region.  

24 June 2022
24 June 2022

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has announced that the country will boost coal production before the winter heating season by about 1.5 m tonnes. Poland produced 19 m tonnes of coal in the first four months of 2022, about 155,000 tonnes more than at the same time last year.

21 June 2022
21 June 2022

Portugal’s Ministry for Environment has reiterated that the country has no intention of going back to coal after closing its last coal plant in 2021.

20 June 2022
20 June 2022

The Dutch government has lifted a cap which restricted coal-fired power plants to operate at 35% of their maximum output. It is a disappointing step for the climate and people’s health, and could have been avoided by rolling out more renewable energy capacity sooner. 

19 June 2022
19 June 2022

Austria’s government orders the operator of the country’s 246MW Mellach coal plant to prepare it for operation, amidst questions over who will staff the plant, where the coal to burn at the plant will be procured from, and the legal basis for reversing the country’s 2020 coal phase out. 

15 June 2022
15 June 2022

EDF has agreed to the UK government’s April 2022 request to keep its West Burton A coal power plant operating through the upcoming winter. Of the plant’s four 547MW units, EDF will make two available, postponing their closure to April 2023. All four units had been scheduled to close by September 2022, but remain under the UK’s 2024 coal exit plan.

14 June 2022
14 June 2022
14 June 2022
14 June 2022

VW prolongs coal-burning at its 306MW Wolfsburg coal power plant.

6 April 2022
6 April 2022

The Greek government has announced that all of the country’s three existing coal plants can theoretically operate until 2025. The last of these plants had been due to close in 2023. The country’s Ptolemaida 5 coal plant, which is expected to be commissioned in early 2023, could operate until 2028 according to the Greek climate law and the country’s NECP. The plant had been scheduled to be converted to burn fossil gas in 2025. 

1 April 2022
1 April 2022

Portugal aims to increase the share of renewables in its electricity production to 80% by 2026, four years earlier than previously planned. The target represents a significant acceleration in the decarbonisation of Portugal’s economy, with its share of renewables in electricity only increasing by 17% over the previous 12 years.

How much does each EU member state spend per year?

This is what each EU country has spent on Russian coal, oil, and fossil gas in recent years, according to UN Comtrade trade data (2019) data is shown when 2021 is not yet available. (Data for 2020 is not representative due to the impact of COVID-19).

Fossil gas imports are apportioned to countries using Eurostat energy trade data.
(N/A means no meaningful imports, or no data).

Check out our Russian Fossil Fuels tracker here.

Policies and measures taken at national level on coal or renewables.

  • Austria

    On 19 June 2022, Austria’s government ordered the operator of the country’s 246MW Mellach coal plant to prepare it for operation amidst questions over who will staff the plant, where the coal to burn at the plant will be procured from, and the legal basis for reversing the country’s 2020 coal phase out. Austria is highly reliant upon hydropower, and periods of drought have hit the country’s power systems hard. Austria had been coal free since 2020. On the basis of the developments at Mellach, we have given Austria a new coal phase out date of 2023.

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina

    In March 2022, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government moved to extend the lifespans of the country’s Tuzla 4 and Kakanj 5 coal units, despite both having exhausted their allotted 20,000 hours operational time under a so-called ‘opt-out’ regime that allows old coal plants to breach emission limits under the Industrial Emissions Directive for a specified period.

  • Bulgaria

    As part of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), Bulgaria is obligated to reduce energy production emissions by 40% from the 2019 level by 2025. At the start of 2023, Bulgarian lawmakers voted to start negotiations for a rollback on climate commitments.

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • CZECHIA

    On 30 June 2022, the Czech government announced that state-owned mining company OKD would continue its hard coal mining activities in the north-east of the country until at least the end of 2023, with the possibility to extend to 2025, scrapping plans to halt mining in 2022. 

    Coal operator CEZ will extend the lifespan of its Detmarovice coal plant (600 MW), previously set to retire in the spring of 2023.  

    Plans to ban the use of the most polluting solid fuel boilers (affecting 150 000 households) have been postponed to 2024. This had already been announced in 2021, but is now being positioned as a measure to lower dependence on Russian fossil fuels. 

    Support for fossil gas boilers has been reduced and compensated for with increased support for heat pumps.

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • Denmark

    On 1 October 2022, the Danish government ordered Ørsted to continue operating its 407 MW Esbjerg 3 coal unit, which closed in  2016. Both are now due to operate until June 2024.

     

     

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • France

    On 26 June 2022, the French government announced it is “keeping open the possibility” of refiring the country’s 647 MW Emile Huchet coal plant this winter. We have therefore pushed France’s coal exit back from 2022 to 2023.

    On 10 February 2022, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced mid-century renewable energy objectives of 40 GW of offshore wind, 37 GW of onshore wind and 100 GW of solar PV power.

    On 16 March 2022, France’s Environment Minister announced that the government would end subsidies for the installation of new residential gas heaters and boost support for renewable energy heating in a bid to further reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels. Households will instead be incentivised to switch over to renewable heating systems through EUR 1,000 increases in the subsidy for “virtuous residential heating”. This includes heat pumps and biomass heaters, including hybrid systems. 150 million euros of new support is also available to companies and municipalities to help them switch to renewable heating.

  • Germany

    On 8 July 2022, the German parliament passed a package of energy laws which include provisions to allow for the reactivation of coal-fired power plants or an extension to their lifespans.
    The Coal Replacement Power Plant Provision Act enables the activation of Germany’s reserve capacity of hard coal, lignite, and oil. The package of laws also contains the goal of a renewables-based power sector by 2030, and a commitment to phase out coal by 2030. 
    The affected plants are as follows:

    Altbach/Deizisau 1 (379 MW)
    Bexbach (780 MW)
    Heilbronn 5 and 6 (250 MW)
    Heyden 4 (923 MW)
    Mannheim 7 (475 MW)
    Quierschied-Weiher 3 (724 MW)
    Walheim 1 and 2 (267 MW)
    Jaenschwalde E and F (1070 MW)
    Neurath C, D and E (1600 MW)
    Niederaussem E and F (635 MW)
    Bergkamen A (780 MW)
    Bremen-Farge (380 MW)
    HKW Voelklingen-Fenne (233 MW)
    MKV Voelklingen-Fenn (233 MW)
    Marl 136 (MW)
    Scholven/Buer C (370 MW)
    Staudinger 5 (553 MW)
    Mehrum (750 MW)

     

    German utility RWE concedes that it will exit coal by 2030, eight years earlier than previously planned, further confirming Germany’s 2030 coal exit. However, the agreement struck with the federal, and state government for North Rhine-Westphalia will still see RWE destroy the village of Lützerath and commit it to fossil gas investments.

     

    Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Germany has sought to accelerate the transition to a fossil-free energy system, with a target for clean energy to make up 80% of its power mix by 2030– up from its previous target of 65%. This will include additions of 110 GW of onshore wind, 30 GW of offshore wind and 200 GW of solar PV by 2030, with a further 70 GW of offshore wind to be added by 2045.

    In early 2021, Germany introduced a tax on carbon emissions caused by the combustion of fossil fuels in buildings. The tax currently stands at EUR 30 per tonne, but is expected to increase to EUR 55 by 2025. The government also plans to ban new fossil fuel heating in buildings from 2025. 

     

  • Greece

    In April 2022, the Greek government announced that all of the country’s three existing coal plants could theoretically operate until 2025. The last of these plants had been due to close in 2023. The country’s Ptolemaida 5 coal plant, which is expected to be commissioned in early 2023, could operate until 2028 according to the Greek climate law and the country’s NECP. The plant had been scheduled to be converted to burn fossil gas in 2025.  

     

    Agios Dimitrios (1595 MW)

    Melitis (Florina) (330 MW)

    Megalopoli 4 (300 MW)

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • Hungary

    On 15 July 2022, the Hungarian government published an emergency decree, which said the country would increase the domestic production of lignite, the timeline and scope of which is unclear, and restore to production all units at the country’s Matra coal plant and ensure that production continues. This constitutes a structural development, as restoring the units will require significant investment, while more workers will be required for this and to increase lignite production Should Matra be restored,  it will breach the LCP BREF through the operation of Block II.

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • Italy

    On 25 June 2022, Italian utility A2A announced that it had been asked by the operator of Italy’s national grid to prepare its 336 MW Monfalcone coal plant for operation, citing shortfalls in supplies of Russian fossil gas and a 60% fall in hydroelectric power production from the company’s plants in Friuli and Venezia Giulia due to extensive drought in the region.

    In September, the then Italian government issued a regulation authorising non-gas power plants (i.e. coal-fired power plants among others) to operate at higher capacity until March 2023.

    On 22 April 2022, Italy’s first offshore wind farm (the first in the Mediterranean) entered into operation. 

    The country is also discussing an increase to its offshore wind target to five GW by 2030 and has approved six new onshore wind farms. 

    Italy’s former government was also weighing an increase to its target share of renewables in electricity generation from 60 % to 70% by 2030

  • Netherlands

    On 20 June 2022, the Dutch government lifted a cap which restricted coal-fired power plants to operate at 35% of their maximum outputHowever, the Netherlands still intends to close its biggest fossil gas field in 2023 or 2024.

    On 10 June 2022, the Dutch government confirmed its plan to double the country’s offshore wind capacity, making wind energy the Netherlands’ largest source of electricity by 2030. The intention is to use this power for industry and households. The country also has ambitious plans for all of its energy supplies to come from renewables by 2050. 

  • Norway

    Measures yet to be announced.

    On 11 May 2022, the Norwegian government announced that it plans to develop 30 GW of offshore wind by 2040, up from 5 GW announced in 2020.

  • Poland

    On 29 September 2022, the Polish government lifted a ban on the use of lignite for heating homes, until April 2023. 

    On 24 June 2022, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that the country will boost coal production before the winter heating season by about 1.5 m tonnes. 

    On 14 June 2022, the Polish government approved measures to subsidise coal for households and housing cooperatives

    Poland produced 19 m tonnes of coal in the first four months of 2022, about 155,000 tonnes more than at the same time last year.

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • Portugal

    In June 2022, Portugal’s Ministry for Environment reiterated that the country has no intention of going back to coal after closing its last coal plant in 2021.

    On 1 April 2022, the Portuguese government announced that Portugal will aim to increase the share of renewables in electricity production to 80% by 2026, four years earlier than previously planned. The target represents a significant acceleration in the decarbonisation of Portugal’s economy, with the share of renewables in electricity only increasing by 17% over the previous 12 years.

  • Romania

    In July 2022, the Romanian government published its Decarbonisation Law, which states that it will phase out coal by 2032 rather than 2030, as previously planned. However, the law mentions that all lignite plants will be shut down by 2026, and a few will be kept in technical reserve until 2030, while the last hard coal plant will shut down in 2030. The only mention of 2032 in the law is for the environment and safety post-closure work for two hard coal mines. Finally, a paragraph in the law states that in an energy crisis, previously closed units could be reopened as long as they are closed before 2032. On this basis, we have retained Romania’s 2030 coal phase status. 

     

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • Spain

    In November 2022, Spanish utility Endesa reactivated unit 1 of its AS Pontes coal plant and said it plans to refire unit 2 at the beginning of 2023, at the request of Spain’s ministry for the ecological transition.

    Measures yet to be announced.

  • United Kingdom

    On 15 June, EDF agreed to the UK government’s April 2022 request to keep its West Burton A coal power plant operating through the upcoming winter. Of the plant’s four 547MW units, EDF will make two available, postponing their closure to April 2023. All four units had been scheduled to close by September 2022, but remain under the UK’s 2024 coal exit plan. 

    On 6 July Drax also agreed to keep its two 700 MW coal-fired units at its Drax power station running until March 2023. Both were due to close by September 2022. 

    Uniper’s 543 MW Ratcliffe coal plant will also continue to operate beyond September 2022 to September 2024. 

    No mention was made of the UK’s 2024 coal exit date in the its Energy security bill published in July.

    On 7 April 2022, the UK updated its energy security strategy. It aims to increase the country’s renewable capacity by 15% by the end of 2023.

    The UK currently has 14 GW of onshore wind and 14 GW of solar power, and has ambitious plans to increase onshore wind capacity in Scotland, and a target to deploy five times more solar power by 2035. Furthermore, the government has targeted up to 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030 — up from its current capacity of 10 GW. A crucial way of supporting the upscaling of renewables is cutting the process time for steps, such as permits, in half. This action aligns with the UK’s net-zero by 2050 policy

    On the demand side, the strategy’s plan is to accelerate energy efficiency by, for example, installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. 

    As of May 2022, over 90% of UK households are still heated with fossil fuels. The goal is for all buildings to have low carbon heating by 2050, with households incentivised and supported through various grants and funds. 

     

Wind and solar power in the EU is thankfully already helping people avoid higher power bills, producing a quarter of EU electricity since Russia’s war on Ukraine began. Together wind and solar power grew by a record 39 TWh year-on-year compared to 2021, helping countries avoid buying eight billion cubic metres of additional fossil gas since Russia invaded Ukraine, and saving €11 billion.

To truly solve the trilemma of high energy prices, energy security, and climate change, Europe needs to massively scale up renewable energy and energy savings efforts. A key step is for EU decision makers to choose far higher renewable and energy efficiency targets, of 50% for renewable energy, and 20% energy efficiency.