Table of contents

2.1.2. Energy transformation

Power and heat plants are critical components of the energy system and represent an important potential vulnerability to climate change impacts.

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Power generation in Europe

Power generation in Europe remains dominated by fossil fuel based thermal power plants. However, their share in the EU+ has dropped from a peak of 55 % in 2007 to 43 % in 2016 (see Figure 2‑4). The relative share of nuclear power has also declined, from 30 % in 1995 to 22 % in 2016. However, nuclear power still plays an important role in electricity generation in half of the EU Member States. France alone is responsible for around half of nuclear EU power production. Nuclear power is being phased out in Germany.

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Hydropower continues to provide the bulk of Europe’s renewable electricity. However, wind and solar power have grown considerable, from almost zero in 1995 to around 9 % and 3 % of the power supply, respectively, in 2016. The growth in renewables is the major element in the development of the European energy system. In 2016, renewables accounted for 86 % of the newly installed electricity generation capacity in Europe (EEA, 2017g). This growth is expected to continue as policies focus on decarbonisation and on promoting renewable energy production (see Section 2.2). Further impulses to the growth in renewable generation capacity are expected as onshore and offshore wind power, and utility-scale PV, increase their cost-competitiveness compared to electricity generation from fossil fuels (IRENA, 2018c).

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Figure 2‑4 Composition of power supply in the EU+

Notes: Gross electricity generation. TWh = terawatt hour. IS = Iceland; NO = Norway; TR = Turkey.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from (Eurostat, 2018e).

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Heating and cooling in Europe

Heating and cooling present an important share of Europe’s energy consumption. Among the two, energy consumption for heating is clearly dominating in most countries. It comes from a variety of sources, including solid, liquid and gaseous fossil fuels and biofuels, electricity and solar thermal. Energy consumption for cooling is much smaller in most countries, but it is increasing due to socio-economic changes and climate change. It comes almost exclusively from electricity. These differences in energy carriers should be considered when interpreting the data below, which does not distinguish between heating and cooling.

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The EU’s Heating and Cooling Strategy was launched in 2016 (EC, 2016i). Significant progress has been made across Europe in terms of increasing the share of RES in the energy mix for heating and cooling. However, the majority of heating and cooling energy is still generated from fossil fuels (66 % in total, 42 % from natural gas). Electricity and district heating account for 21 %, with this being mainly based on fossil fuels. RES, mostly biomass, is now used in 13 % of heating and cooling production. Solar thermal, geothermal and heat pumps are still marginal in most European countries (Heat Roadmap, 2017). However, biogas and heat pumps have had high annual growth rates since 2005 (Eurostat, 2018e).

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The decarbonisation of industrial and domestic heating processes still presents a challenge (Steinbach et al., 2017). Meeting decarbonisation targets will require a combination of energy efficiency improvements (including insulation in buildings) and new or innovative heating and cooling solutions. These include combined heat and power generation, heating and cooling from renewable sources, power-to-heat and/or district heating and cooling. Suitable solutions will differ across regions, partly reflecting regional variations in heating and cooling demand.

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