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Wind and solar smashed records in the EU this year

Wind and solar smashed records in the EU this year


War in Ukraine triggered a race to drop Russian gas, but way more renewable energy is needed to meet climate goals

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Solar panels are seen on houses
Solar panels are seen on houses in Gaj, Poland on April 4th, 2022. 
Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Since war broke out early this year, roughly a quarter of the European Union’s electricity has came from wind and solar, a new report finds. That’s a record-setting number, and the growth in wind and solar has saved the EU €11 billion in avoided gas costs after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made purchasing Russian gas politically untenable.

Within the bloc of 27 nations, 19 countries broke their own records for solar and wind electricity generation, according to the new report published by energy think tank Ember and climate think tank E3G. Poland, which has historically relied heavily on coal, saw the biggest bump with a 48.5 percent increase in solar and wind generation. Spain also led the pack with the biggest increase in terms of absolute electricity generation from solar and wind. It added 7.4TWh, a 35 percent increase in its wind and solar electricity generation. All that extra renewable energy also helped fill in for a major drought-driven drop of 21 percent in hydroelectricity generation across the European Union.

19 countries broke their own records

Europe is still in the thick of a years-long energy crunch since rising gas demand collided with a pinch in supply in 2021, as economic activity picked back up following pandemic-driven shutdowns. This year, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine made the EU’s reliance on Russian gas even more painfully clear. Prior to this year’s conflict, around 45 percent of the bloc’s imported gas supply came from Russia.

The bloc had already been making plans to transition to cleaner sources of energy to limit the consequences of climate change, which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine accelerated. The European Commission proposed a plan this year to stop using fossil fuels from Russia “well before 2030” and increase the share of renewables in its overall energy mix to 45 percent by the same date.

There’s still a long way to reach any of those goals. While wind and solar generated about a quarter of the EU’s electricity mix between March and September this year, gas still continued to supply about a fifth of bloc’s electricity. The energy crisis has also pushed some countries to rethink their plans for nuclear energy. Germany, which was supposed to close its last few nuclear power plants by the end of this year, now says it will keep the plants operational through mid-April of next year.

War isn’t the only cause for Europe’s new reliance on renewables. Countries are also gearing up for a United Nations climate conference in November to follow up on commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Currently, the world is only on track to reduce planet-heating CO2 emissions by 7 percent from 2019 levels by 2030, according to a report released today by the NGO World Resources Institute. The world needs to shrink its emissions by 7.6 percent each year this decade to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. That’s a whole lot more solar and wind energy to deploy, in Europe and around the world.