Despite an overall improving trend, the use of fossil fuels increased again in 2022. This led to higher emissions of greenhouse gases across the EU electricity sector for the second consecutive year. Furthermore, it caused an increase in the greenhouse gas emission intensity of EU power generation, generating 1 kilowatt hour in 2022 emitted, on average, 9% more CO2 than in 2021, yet still 24% less than a decade ago. Climate and energy policies have effectively lowered carbon-intensive energy supply over time, yet high gas prices and nuclear shutdowns in 2022 resulted in more coal use in the generation mix.

Figure 1. Greenhouse gas emission intensity of electricity generation, EU level

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 more intensely this decade.

In 2022, the EU’s electricity sector was half as GHG intensive as in 1990, yet 9% more than in 2021, as exceptionally high gas prices triggered a rise in coal generation in some countries. With the energy crisis unfolding, electricity generation fell by 3%, compared with 2021. The worsening of the GHG emission intensity of the sector in 2022 occurred against the backdrop of an almost unchanged (0.1%) increase in renewable generation, as rapid growth of solar and wind resources was set back by a drought-related reduction of hydropower. At the same time electricity generated from from coal and oil products increased by 8% and 16% respectively, while nuclear output fell by 17% due significant outages in France.

Until 2010, the need to comply with industrial emissions legislation, such as the Large Combustion Plants Directive and the shift from fossil fuels to renewable electricity sources drove down the carbon intensity of EU electricity supply. Since 2010, the decrease has been almost exclusively due to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable electricity sources, with prices for emission allowances under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme increasing, 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 more rapidly. Figure 1 visualises indicative intensity levels that would be consistent with the EU’s climate targets.

Today’s geopolitical context calls for a faster decarbonisation to replace gas and coal in power generation, heating and industry. This would substantially improve energy security and reduce electricity prices in the longer term. To accomplish this, additional policies and measures are needed to deploy renewable generation sources faster, provide incentives to users to save energy and participate actively in the electricity market, and ensure an optimised build out of electricity infrastructures across the European Union.

Figure 2. Greenhouse gas emission intensity of electricity generation, country level

The GHG intensity of electricity production differs significantly from one Member State to another. Estonia, Poland, Cyprus and Bulgaria had the highest electricity generation carbon intensity in 2022. This arose by 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, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Ireland and Italy). The GHG intensities for electricity production were lowest in Sweden, Luxembourg and Finland, because of their high share of low-carbon electricity sources (renewables and nuclear power).

As for national achievements, the highest rates of decarbonisation in electricity production over the 1990-2022 period were recorded in Luxembourg (85% decrease), Denmark (83%), Latvia (81%), Slovakia (80%) and Malta (78%). 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.