EU fossil fuel use tumbles to record low as the first half of 2023 sees a 17% decrease

Demand decrease has caused record low fossil fuel use, but with widening electrification, industrial growth plans and roasting hot summers on the horizon, demand alone can’t be relied upon to end European fossil fuel use; clean energy must still grow.
September 12, 2023

14 EU nations see record-low fossil fuel use

Power produced by fossil fuels across the European Union (EU) decreased to its lowest level since records began in the first half of 2023. Compared to the same time last year, the amount of gas and coal used to create electricity declined by 13% and 23%, respectively. Wind power production rose by 5% at the same time that solar generating climbed by 13%.  This made it possible for 17 EU nations to produce record amounts of power from renewable sources. Greece and Romania reached 50% of renewable energy for the first time, while Portugal and Denmark reached 75%.[i]

It wasn’t just record highs for renewables; it was record lows for fossil fuels. Fourteen nations saw the lowest overall fossil generation on record, with Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Poland, and Slovenia recording their lowest fossil output since at least 2000. Throughout the summer, some nations avoided utilising the fossil fuels that have historically been the foundation of their power systems for sizable stretches of time. With only five days of coal consumption in June, the Netherlands saw a record-breaking streak of seventeen days without using any, while in July, Greece went more than 80 hours without using the world's dirtiest fuel.[ii]

Source: Ember

Falling demand drives reduction

The persistent high energy prices have had a number of effects, one of which has been a significant drop in electricity demand of 4.6% (-61 TWh) in the first half of the year. Demand for the time period was 1261 TWh, the lowest since at least 2008 for the current Member States and even lower than the COVID-19 low of 1271 TWh in 2020.[iii] In response to skyrocketing energy prices, the European Commission enacted emergency measures to reduce EU electricity demand from November 2022 to March 2023, and nearly all Member States succeeded in lowering their usage during that time.[iv] According to the IEA, non-weather-related causes will account for two-thirds of the demand fall in 2022, with the production of energy-intensive industries playing a significant role.[v]

In Germany, where output from energy-intensive industries has decreased by 15% to 20% from its 2021 average, the decline in industrial demand has been particularly severe. Other significant industrial hubs in the EU have also experienced reductions, including Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, France, and Spain. Demand destruction is undoubtedly contributing to the decline in demand, which adds to worries about the competitiveness of European industry. Demand destruction can be partly attributable to energy efficiency, demand side response, and unmeasured solar generation.[vi]

Whilst weather-related demand reduction may remain stable as the European climate continues to become milder in the winter, there is concern that the roasting summers could lead to more reliance on air conditioning on the continent, which has historically been low. AC use has risen from 10% to 19%, which is still dwarfed by the 90% prevalence in the US, but its use is predicted to rise as heatwaves become more common.[vii] The industrial sector could mirror this potential rebound in demand as the EU aim to restrengthen the continent's industrial output. This potential for demand increase could worry analysts who are pleased with the observed decline in fossil fuel use, and such concern may only be redoubled by the knowledge that wider electrification will further increase demand. Ember says of the current circumstances:

‘European policy makers must ensure that the conditions are right for this increase to be met by clean sources rather than fossil fuels. Not only does this require the acceleration of wind and solar deployment, but also the urgent development of key enablers to support renewables such as streamlined permitting, grid expansion and adequate storage deployment. It is essential that a coordinated whole system approach is placed at the top of the political agenda across Europe, to unlock the security and cost benefits of clean power.’[viii]


[i] Carbon Brief- EU’s use of fossil fuels for electricity falls 17% to ‘record low’ in first half of 2023

[ii] Ember- EU fossil generation hits record low as demand falls

[iii] Ibid

[iv] European Parliament- Energy saving: EU action to reduce energy consumption

[v] IEA- Electricity Market Report: 2023 update

[vi] Ember- EU fossil generation hits record low as demand falls

[vii] Euro News Green- Europeans reluctantly turn to air conditioning as heatwaves bite

[viii] Ember- EU fossil generation hits record low as demand falls

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Oscar Pusey
Research Analyst

Oscar is a recent graduate with a background in earth science. He is currently studying an MSc focussing on disaster responses, emergency planning and community resilience. His postgraduate research project will assess the link between climate crisis risk perception and attitudes to green energy projects. “Adapting to the climate crisis through the pursuit of net zero requires community engagement and understanding. Zero Carbon Academy’s goals closely align with this approach and I’m excited to have the opportunity to research and communicate a variety of topics relating to our environment and sustainability”.

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