Wind and solar overtake fossil generation in the EU

New data from energy think tank Ember shows that wind and solar produced more EU electricity than fossil fuels in May, for the first full month on record.

Almost a third of the EU’s electricity in May was generated from wind and solar (31%, 59 TWh), while fossil fuels generated a record low of 27% (53 TWh).

“Europe’s electricity transition has hit hyperdrive,” said Ember’s Europe lead Sarah Brown. “Clean power keeps smashing record after record.”

The new milestone was driven by solar growth, strong wind performance and low electricity demand. Solar generated a record 14% of EU electricity in May, hitting an all-time high of 27 TWh, which exceeds the monthly solar records set in July last year.

For the first time, EU solar generation overtook coal generation, with coal generating just 10% of EU electricity in May.

Wind power grew year-on-year to generate 17% of EU electricity in May (32 TWh). However, this was lower than the record set in January this year when wind produced 23% (54 TWh) of EU electricity. 

Record-low coal power 

The strong performance of wind and solar meant that EU coal generation fell to an all-time monthly low in May, with just 10% (20 TWh) of EU electricity coming from the most polluting source. The record-low coal generation in May was just below the previous record set during the pandemic lockdowns, when coal power generated slightly above 10% of EU electricity in April 2020. Fossil gas recorded the lowest share of generation since 2018 at just 15% of EU electricity during May.

The fossil collapse last month was not an exception. Renewable capacity additions, especially from solar, and falling electricity demand, have propelled wind and solar forward and caused fossil fuels to fall throughout late 2022 and into 2023. From January to May this year, coal and gas generation have fallen by 20% and 15% respectively compared to the same period in 2022, whilst solar has increased by 10% and wind is up 5%.

Ember’s European Electricity Review published in January identified that wind and solar generation overtook gas in the EU in 2022, the first full year this had happened. Now wind and solar have produced more than all fossil fuels combined in a single month.

The EU-wide drops in fossil generation are reflected in many countries. In Germany, despite the closure of its last nuclear power plants earlier this year, coal generation fell to the lowest level (7 TWh) since early 2020, driven by low demand, strong wind and solar generation and increased electricity imports. In Poland, one of the biggest coal power producers in Europe, coal generation fell to an all-time low (62%, 7 TWh).

Ember’s Europe lead, Sarah Brown, continued: “Solar and wind are helping to cut fossil fuel use. Not only did coal power set new lows, but gas is also tumbling. The EU is on track for a huge collapse in fossil power this year, as wind and solar emerge as the backbone of the future electricity system.”


Chris Price