Eurostat: Fossil fuels again led in electricity generation in EU in 2021

  • 2022-07-04
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – Total electricity supply in the European Union increased by 4.2 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, with preliminary data indicating a return to fossil fuels as the leading source, after the renewable category surpassed fossil fuels for electricity generation in 2020, Eurostat said in a report published earlier this week.

After a long period of national lockdowns and restrictive measures introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, 2021 saw a rebound in economic activity in many EU countries, which impacted energy use in the EU. 

On the renewables side, preliminary 2021 data show the biggest increases in electricity produced from solar energy, +13.0 percent, followed by solid biofuels, +9.6 percent. On the other hand, due to unfavorable weather conditions, electricity generation from hydro and wind decreased by 1.2 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively. 

At the same time, electricity generation from certain solid fossil fuels increased substantially in 2021: other bituminous coal, by 25.6 percent, and lignite, by 16.2 percent. 

Compared with 2020, the output of nuclear power plants increased by 7.0 percent. 

On the level of individual energy carriers, the biggest contributors to the EU electricity generation system in 2021 were nuclear with 731 terawatt-hours (TWh), natural gas, 550 TWh, wind, 386 TWh, hydro, 370 TWh, lignite, 227 TWh, other bituminous coal, 193 TWh , and solar, 163 TWh. 

Preliminary 2021 data indicate an increase in the EU’s inland consumption of fossil fuels, reflecting the EU’s economic recovery, as well as people’s lives returning to a somewhat normal level during that year, even if parts of the year were still very much irregular.  

Following a massive fall of 12.4 percent in 2020 in petroleum products consumption, in 2021, estimates show a 5.0 percent increase compared with the previous year, but still below pre-pandemic levels. Compared with 2019, 2021 data show an 8.1 percent lower petroleum products consumption.

While solid fossil fuels increased by 13.7 percent in 2021 compared with 2020, when registering the lowest value at around 426.7 million tons, they are at the second-lowest level since 1990. Looking at 2019, consumption of these fuels is still below that level, also indicating an 8.0 percent drop. This evolution is expected, given the EU's decarbonization goals.

In 2021, coal consumption, including both brown coal and hard coal, increased but remained below 2019 levels and at the second-lowest point since 1990, indicating a continued decline following the effects of the pandemic combined with those of coal exit policies. Compared with 2020, the 2021 provisional data show increases of 14.7 percent for hard coal and 12.8 percent for brown coal, but compared with 2019, consumption dropped by 7.2 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively. 

While prices for natural gas were rocketing, particularly in the second half of 2021, consumption was the highest recorded in the past ten years in the EU, reaching 15.8 million terajoules (TJ), indicating a 3.9 percent increase compared with 2020.

Natural gas net imports made up 86.4 percent of inland consumption in the EU in 2021, showing a 4.0 percent increase compared with 2020. In 2021, only 1.7 million TJ of natural gas came from domestic production, showing an 8.7 percent drop compared with the previous year. Stock draws, meaning decreases in natural gas stored, in 2020 and in 2021 recorded the highest levels since 1990, the first year for which data are available, Eurostat said.