March 13, 2010
European Union Using More Fossil Fuels For Electricity

You might expect that in Europe the percentage of electricity coming from fossil fuels would be dropping. That's what I expected, with with the Kyoto Accord and aggressive green energy policies. But a comment on the Oil Drum led me to an interesting pair of pie graphs of European electric power sources in 1997 and 2005. Bottom line, EU electric power percentage from fossil fuels shows an increase of 4% of total market share:

  • In 1995: 10% (natural gas) + 31% (coal) + 13% (oil) = 54%.
  • In 2007: 21% (natural gas) + 30% (coal) +  7% (oil) = 58%.

How did this happen? My guess is that as total demand increased political opposition to the expansion of nuclear (24% in 1995, down to 17% in 2007) combined with the lack of new rivers to dam to ramp up hydro (20% in 1995, down to 15% in 2007) meant that fossil fuels gained market share. Wind went from almost nowhere in 1995 to 7% in 2007. But that 7% gain just canceled out the market share loss of nukes. Given that Germany might decommission all its nukes fossil fuels look set to make even bigger market share gains.

Solar still didn't account for a big enough amount to warrant its own pie chart slice even in 2007.

A vigorous program of nuclear power plant construction could allow nuclear power to regain its lost market share. Then at least a portion of the expansion of wind power could go toward displacing fossil fuels. Drive nuclear power's markets share up enough to also compensate for all the lost hydro market share (i.e. at least 29% of total electric power from nukes) and then all wind power would displace fossil fuels.

Europe is too far north for solar to make anywhere near as big an impact as nukes. Plus, Europe lacks the big windy plains of America's interior for wind power generation. Europe's biggest practical replacement for fossil fuels is nuclear power. Look at what has happened as a result of political policies that ignore this fact.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 March 13 03:09 PM  Energy Electric Generators

kurt9 said at March 13, 2010 4:49 PM:

The Germans have decided not to decommission their nuclear power plants after all.

Randall Parker said at March 13, 2010 7:17 PM:


A Feb 8 2010 Bloomberg report says Merkel's coalition partners aren't keen on the extension. Or at least Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen is opposed. I haven't seen the definitive report that says definitely the extensions to 60 years will be granted.

Randall Parker said at March 13, 2010 7:23 PM:


Read here and here on the row over whether to extend nuclear reactor operating permits in Germany. Sounds like the FDP is much more committed to this than Merkel. She's flirting with a coalition with the greens. That'd kill this plan.

MarkyMark said at March 13, 2010 8:21 PM:

Natural gas more than doubled as a percentage share while oil halved. Given that natural gas is by far the cleanest of the fossil fuels I would expect that the politics in Europe are such that this is the least worst option for many (outside of the renewables).

I visit the Oil Drum often as its a great source of peak oil info. One thing that strikes me though is that unlike a lot of political issues "peak oilers" come from across the political spectrum (environmentalists, ex-industry people, conservative and liberal) but the the oil drum is definitely a left wing site in terms of outlook and solutions. For my money this means that there is zero chance that peak oilers will be able to unite as a movement. I note that the linked article has at the time of typing 514 comments.

Brett Bellmore said at March 13, 2010 8:26 PM:

"Given that natural gas is by far the cleanest of the fossil fuels I would expect that the politics in Europe are such that this is the least worst option for many (outside of the renewables)."

Given where a lot of that natural gas is coming from, the implications of being even more vulnerable to Russian energy blackmail ought to have people concerned.

Randall Parker said at March 13, 2010 9:48 PM:


What's amazing about the use of oil in Europe for generating electricity is that Europe is so lagging in the shift away from oil. Jimmy Carter and the US Congress of the late 1970s mandated a US shift away from oil to natural gas, coal, and nuclear power for electric power generation. Europe is lagging in making that shift.

Note that Europe is not shifting away from coal. From 31% down to 30% does not represent a big shift away from coal.

While Europe has set aggressive goal for electric power generation from renewables unless it embraces nuclear power expansion at best the renewables expansion will leave total non-fossil fuels electric power usage not much higher as a total percentage than today. But environmentalists are unfortunately not known for practicality.

MCrab said at March 14, 2010 10:26 AM:

You do realise that the figures you quote are installed capacity not electricity generated? Also, you're comparing apples and oranges from 1995 to 2007 as the EU has absorbed new countries in that time. The changes reflect the evolution of the supranational union rather than its energy mix. If we compare how both the capacity and electricity generated have varied in the same 27 countries that currently make up the EU we find:

In terms of capacity:

Source 1995 2007 Change +/-
Thermal 58.5% 57.6% -0.9%
Nuclear 20.2% 17.0% -3.2%
Hydro. 20.8% 18.0% -2.8%
Renew. 0.5% 7.3% 6.8%

In terms of Electricity Generated

Source 1995 2007 Change +/-
Thermal 54.4% 56.2% 1.8%
Nuclear 32.5% 28.0% -4.5%
Hydro. 12.0% 9.3% -2.7%
Renew. 1.2% 6.5% 5.3%

By comparing like with like, we see the true consequences of recent energy policy has been to see renewables displace mostly nuclear generation rather than fossil fuels, no doubt to the joy of anti-nuclear ideologues like Greenpeace.

A website engaged in boosterism is seldom a good source of data.

th said at March 15, 2010 3:24 PM:

parker, the industrial fuels usage act, under Carter was intended to completely ban natural gas as a fuel for power generation by 1990, not encourage it, during the clinton administration the only power plants getting permitted were natural gas leading to another round of high prices, driving most gas reliant industries to the brink again.

this was the story just a few years ago before shale gas.,9171,1101030721-464406,00.html

Nick G said at March 20, 2010 3:57 PM:

McCrab has a good point, though I think he's off about the net changes to the mix.

"The addition of ten new Member States in May 2004 put another 112 GW into the EU generation mix, including 80 GW of coal, 12 GW of large hydro, 12 GW of natural gas, 6.5 GW of nuclear and 186 MW of wind power."

The new member states were 70% coal - that means the original states' coal market share declined much more sharply.

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