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Europe was once inextricably linked to coal. It was coal that made the Industrial Revolution happen and that fueled economic dominance of the continent. However, it is finally coming out and fast.
Last year, the use of coal decreased by 24% in power generation within the European Union, according to a new report by the German think tank Agora Energiewende. “The generation with hard coal decreased by 32%, while the lignite decreased by 16%. This development is driven by increases in CO2 prices and the deployment of renewable energies, ”the report states.
"Gas replaced about half the coal, solar and wind the other half," he adds. "The decline will continue: Greece and Hungary pledged in 2019 to phase out, bringing the total of member states to phase out, to 15. Only Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia have yet to start."
Sweden and Austria have been the last countries to eliminate it from national electricity production by closing their latest energy plans for this mineral. Last month Sweden closed its only remaining coal-fired cogeneration plant, which was launched in 1989 to provide heat and electricity to people in Stockholm. The same week, Austria closed its own plant for this mineral, serving a district heating network in a municipality south of Graz.
Both countries said goodbye to coal well in advance in what has rightly been "a milestone" for clean energy on the continent. "With Sweden releasing coal in the same week as Austria, its downward trajectory in Europe is clear," emphasized Kathrin Gutmann of the lobby group Europe Beyond Coal. "Coal is now in terminal decline across Europe."
Sweden and Austria have followed in the footsteps of Belgium, which was the first EU country to suspend the use of this mineral for heat and power generation in 2016.
Several European countries have pledged to stop using coal in the coming years, including France, Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Meanwhile, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland, Hungary and Denmark have said they will stop using it for electricity generation by the end of the decade. Germany, a major user, will do the same in two decades, according to plans.
Along with the phase-out, renewables have been gaining ground within the EU. “For the first time, wind and solar power combined provided more electricity than coal, contributing 18% of the EU's electricity in 2019. This is more than double the market share since 2013,” explains Agora Energiewende.
“The increase in wind and solar power generation was strongest in Western Europe, while Poland and Greece have started to participate,” explains the expert group, adding, however, that “the rest of Eastern Europe is significantly lagging".