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Despite an overall improving trend, the use of fossil fuels increased in 2022 leading to higher emissions of greenhouse gases across the EU electricity sector than was previously observed in 2021. This led to an increase in the greenhouse gas emission intensity of EU power generation: generating 1 kilowatt hour in 2022 emitted, on average, 6% more CO2 than in 2021, yet still 26% less than a decade ago. While climate mitigation and energy policies have been effective in lowering carbon-intensive energy supply over time, high gas prices and nuclear shutdowns in 2022 resulted in more coal use in the generation mix.
The EU electricity sector is expected to provide one of the most significant contributions to climate mitigation by 2030 and be a cornerstone for the Union to reach net climate neutrality by 2050, according to scenarios. For that to happen, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity of the sector needs to fall drastically this decade.
In 2022, the EU’s electricity sector was 50% less GHG intensive than in 1990, yet 6% more than in 2021, as gas prices reached record levels and triggered an increase of coal generation in some countries. With the energy crisis unfolding, electricity generation fell by 3%, compared with 2021. The 2022 worsening of the GHG emission intensity of the sector occurred against the backdrop of an almost unchanged (0.1%) increase in renewable generation in 2022, as rapid growth of solar and wind resources was counterbalanced by drought-related reductions of hydropower availability. At the same time, electricity generated from coal and oil products increased by 8% and 16%, respectively, while nuclear output fell by 17% due numerous outages in France.
Until 2010, the increased efficiencies of transformation from fossil fuels to electricity played a role in decreasing carbon intensities, spurred also by the need to comply with emission limit values set under industrial emissions legislation, such as the Large Combustion Plants Directive 2001/80/EC. Since 2010, the reduction has been almost exclusively because of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels in electricity generation, with prices for emission allowances under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme increasing in relevance, especially since 2019.
To reduce EU’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 (compared with 1990) and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, electricity generation across the EU needs to decarbonise much faster. Figure 1 visualises indicative intensity levels that would be consistent with the EU’s climate targets. Today’s geopolitical context calls for faster decarbonisation to replace gas and coal in power generation, heating and industry. This would substantially reduce electricity prices and improve energy security. To make that happen, additional policies and measures are needed to save energy and improve resource efficiency, deploy renewable generation capacities faster, provide incentives so that users can participate actively in the electricity market and ensure the optimised and secure use of electricity infrastructures across the European Union.
The GHG intensity of electricity production differs significantly from one Member State to another. In 2022, Poland, Estonia, Cyprus and Bulgaria had the highest electricity generation carbon intensity in the EU. This was the result of using solid fossil fuels, relatively few renewables and limited, or no, nuclear sources in their national electricity mixes. In seven additional Member States, the carbon intensity was higher than the EU average (Czechia, Greece, Malta, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Italy). The GHG intensities for electricity production were lowest in Sweden, Luxembourg and France, because of their high share of low-carbon electricity sources (nuclear and renewable power).
Regarding national achievements, the highest rates of decarbonisation in electricity production over the 1990-2022 period were recorded in Luxembourg (88% decrease), Denmark (85%), Malta (78%) and Slovakia (76%). In non-EU EEA countries, all electricity produced in Iceland and most produced in Norway comes from renewable sources, and hence, their GHG emission intensities are very low. Türkiye has a relatively high GHG emission intensity of electricity generation.