Wind and solar surpass gas for European Union electricity in 2022: Report

Fossil fuel generation in the EU could plummet by 20% in 2023, according to a new report.

Over a dozen large wind turbines tower high above scads of solar panels.
In this aerial view, wind turbines producing electricity spin over a solar park on Nov. 1, 2022, near Klettwitz, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Climate change. Get the latest.
Climate change. Get the latest.

Wind and solar power generated a record 22.3% of the European Union's electricity in 2022, topping the amount generated from gas (19.9%) for the first time, according to a report released Tuesday.

The EU has been pursuing an aggressive transition away from gas and coal (which generated 15.5% of the trading bloc's electricity last year) in order to meet pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. The bloc has also been diversifying its energy sources in the wake of Russian oil and gas cuts stemming from Moscow's invasion of Ukraine that have caused prices to soar.

"Not only are European countries still committed to phasing out coal, they are now striving to phase out gas as well. The energy crisis has undoubtedly sped up Europe's electricity transition. Europe is hurtling towards a clean, electrified economy, and this will be on full display in 2023. Change is coming fast, and everyone needs to be ready for it," Dave Jones, head of data insights at Ember, the climate think tank that complied the report, said in a statement.

Several factors, however, contributed to slow the transition to cleaner sources of energy in 2022, the report noted, including an 83% drop in the amount of electricity the EU generated in 2022 from hydropower, due to a pervasive drought on the continent. Also, some European nations continued to phase out reliance on nuclear power, and other countries saw a slight uptick in the use of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, to make up for Russian gas cuts.

Still, the year ahead is expected to see more dramatic shifts in how Europe generates electricity.

"Ember estimates that fossil generation could plummet by 20% in 2023, double the previous record from 2020," the report states. "Coal generation will fall, but gas generation will fall the fastest, since it is expected to remain more expensive than coal until at least 2025 based on current forward prices."

Solar power in the EU rose by a record 24% last year, the report said, with countries like Spain, Germany and the Netherlands all setting new high marks for the amount of power they generated from the sun.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted a tweet Tuesday in response to the report.

On Monday in its annual energy outlook, oil giant BP predicted that fossil fuels, which it said accounted for 80% of energy usage in 2019, would fall to just 20% by 2050.

While the transition to clean energy has been rapid as many countries have moved to cut greenhouse gas emissions, some oil companies posted record profits in 2022.

On Tuesday, Exxon Mobil reported $56 billion in net profit in 2022, with Russia's war in Ukraine helping the company's margins. Last week, Chevron said it set its own record, taking in $36 billion in profits in 2022.