Renewables Thriving, Dirty Energy Fizzling Out During Crisis



2020 hasn’t been easy. The Coronavirus pandemic, in particular, has put unprecedented pressure on every aspect of our lives. An analysis of Europe’s energy systems for the first half of the year shows us how, throughout all this, renewable energy generation has increased while the fossil fuel industry’s inevitable demise might come sooner than we thought.

The climate and energy think-tank, Ember, carried out a mid-yearly analysis of electricity data obtained from all over Europe between January and the end of June 2020. 

Renewable energy generation increased during the first half of the year and provided energy for homes all over the continent without interruption. No interruptions have been forecasted for the summer months either. Wind and solar energy accounted for 21% of Europe’s total electricity generation. A particularly windy February followed by favourable conditions in the second quarter of the year helped wind energy generation rise by 11% and solar by 16%. 

In Denmark, an astounding 64% of the energy generated was wind and solar while other countries like Ireland (49%) and Germany (42%) also showed very promising signs. COVID-19 has resulted in a slow down of installations of new solar and wind systems but it has also proven that they can handle large shares of the electricity grid. With improvements to existing grids to make them more flexible, wind and solar energy can overcome issues like negative wholesale energy. This is when more wind and/or solar energy is generated than is needed. With the current grids being “inflexible” actions need to be taken to balance the grid generally hiking up the price for the end-user.  

On the other hand, 2020 saw fossil fuels drop by 18% due to an increase in renewable energy generation and a 7% drop in electricity demand thanks to COVID-19. The worst-hit was coal which fell by 32% and currently holds a market share of just 12% in the EU-27. Every country currently generating coal that was analysed reported a drop in production. Germany’s coal production dropped by 39%.


The generation of fossil gas declined in eleven countries. Spain and Italy generated 20% and 16% less respectively. Nuclear energy suffered a similar fate, especially in France which saw a 29.5% drop as it was replaced by more wind energy.



The Climate Herald reached out to Dave Jones, Ember’s senior electricity analyst regarding the situation in North Macedonia. Incomplete data from MEPSO, the country’s electricity grid operator made it difficult to come to any solid conclusions but it would appear that coal generation dropped significantly. Unfortunately, wind and solar are still far behind in order to ensure North Macedonia’s transition from dirty to clean energy. Mr Jones told The Climate Herald:

“It's difficult to be sure of exactly what happened in North Macedonia so far this year, as the electricity grid operator data is a little unreliable. Coal generation seems to have fallen pretty substantially, which is good news for carbon emissions in North Macedonia. However, it seems there's been little acceleration in wind and solar generation, and actually the coal electricity was replaced with extra imports from neighbours. North Macedonia is considering how quickly its coal units will close, but it needs to step up to replace that dirty electricity generation with cleaner generation sooner rather than later.” 

  • Dave Jones, Senior Electricity Analyst, Ember

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a lot of holes in our political and economic systems but it has also shown us what works and what doesn’t. Dave Jones says that “renewables have proved more resilient than fossil fuels in the face of this crisis.” As we continue to fight it and we look to tackle more uncertainties ahead, it is vital for decision-makers to ensure that we transition away from dirty energy and towards clean energy as soon as possible.


Translation & adaptation: Simona Getova


The Author: JD Farrugia

JD has been working in project and campaign management roles since 2010, mostly within civil society but also in the private sphere, as well as the arts and culture sector. Some of these roles include: directing a CSO focused on sustainable fisheries, setting up and coordinating civil society programmes, and coordinating the programme of a community theatre. JD has an M.Sc in Environmental Management & Planning and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, both from the University of Malta. He is currently involved in various projects related to environmental causes as well as artistic projects in Malta, North Macedonia and on a European level.

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