The climate policy think-tank, Sandbag has published an annual review of the European Power Sector (2017). One finding of note was that electricity consumption rose in every European country last year, with the exception of the UK. Overall, electricity consumption across Europe grew by 0.17%, while power consumption in the UK fell by 2% between 2016 and 2017. A number of reasons have been suggested for this divergence. Increased use of energy-efficient products and lower levels of industrial demand contributed to a reduction in consumption. However, it is thought that increased reliance on air-conditioning on the Continent had a greater part to play. New sources of demand such as the electric cars and bitcoin mining also added to demand across Europe. Over the last three years, GDP in Europe has grown by approx. 2% per annum, accompanied by a 1% increase in electricity demand, demonstrating that energy efficiency is improving in Europe but is not keeping pace with economic growth.
A sharp increase in renewable capacity was seen in 2017, which overtook coal for the first time. However, most of this growth took place in the UK and Germany. Wind generation output was high in 2017 due to favourable weather conditions. Germany generated 29% of total European wind power last year, while the UK and Spain each accounted for 13%. Meanwhile, the debate on coal continues in Germany where 37% of power production was from hard coal and lignite last year. Italy, Portugal, and the Netherlands all put plans in place to phase out coal in 2017, taking direction from the UK and France.
Despite the overall increase in renewables in Europe, emissions from the power sector remained unchanged because nuclear outages and low levels of hydro led to increased reliance on fossil fuels. Safety concerns at nuclear plants in France and Germany led to shutdowns in 2017. Meanwhile, stronger industrial production led to an increase in emissions from other sectors. Sandbag, therefore, predicts the final figures will show that, overall, greenhouse gas emissions rose by approx. 1% in 2017.