A new peak for output comes amid a squeeze on gas, hydropower and nuclear supplies
Solar power generation reached a new record in the EU over the summer months as supplies from gas, hydropower and nuclear were all squeezed during the energy crisis. Sunny weather across the continent and a boost in solar installations contributed to the record generation, which was 28 per cent higher than the previous summer, according to research from Ember, the UK environmental think-tank. Solar power generated 99.4 terawatt hours of electricity between May and August. It accounted for 12 per cent of power generation, up from 9 per cent the previous summer, although the rise in proportion was in part due to the fall in supply of most other energy sources. The record solar generation came as Europe also experienced record heatwaves. That led to increased energy demand for cooling purposes at a time when countries were trying to conserve the use of gas due to soaring prices as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine affecting supplies. “The fact that we . . . can already generate above 10 per cent of EU electricity from solar gives hope” for a transition to cleaner energy and better energy security, said Paweł Czyżak, senior analyst at Ember and one of the authors of the report.
The share of solar power in electricity generation was highest in the Netherlands, at 23 per cent, and Germany, at 19 per cent. Solar power generation saved the EU 20bn cubic metres’ worth of gas imports during the four months, Ember estimated, assuming that all solar was replacing gas. Dolf Gielen, director of technology and innovation at the International Renewable Energy Agency, said that the main reason for record solar power generation was the installation of more farms across Europe. “The capacity expands every year by about 15 per cent. So that gives you at least a 15 per cent gain, maybe a little bit more because the efficiency of the latest panels is higher,” he said. Solar power’s share of overall energy generation in Europe was also affected by droughts, which curbed hydropower and nuclear output from countries such as France. Even so, the intermittent nature of solar power means it has to be complemented with other power sources that can generate electricity at night, such as gas or coal-fired power plants. European countries are seeking to boost their capacity to store energy to cope with the growth in renewables. European gas prices have soared on the back of restricted gas supplies from Russia, with contracts linked to TTF, the wholesale European gas price, trading more than 300 per cent higher than they were a year ago, straining households as well as utility companies.
The EU agreed in July to reduce gas use in the region by 15 per cent until next spring, and the European Commission is preparing price caps on Russian gas to tackle the energy crisis. Poland had the biggest increase in solar power generation in the past five years, with a 26-fold increase between the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2022, Ember said. Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the Netherlands had also seen big increases in solar power generation over that period, it added. “The big takeaway is that renewables are the way forward if we want to pay less for imported fossil fuels, if we want to be more energy secure, and not be blackmailed by suppliers like Russia,” Czyżak said.