Navigant Research Blog

Wind Energy Surpasses Coal Generation in Europe

Jesse Broehl — February 15, 2017

TurbineEurope is widely considered to be the birthplace of the modern wind energy industry and its corporate and technology home base. Installation rates announced by WindEurope for 2016 show continued and stable momentum, with 12.5 GW installed across 28 EU member states (10,923 MW onshore and 1,567 MW offshore). This was 3% less than the new installations in 2015, which is less a downturn than a reflection that 2015 was a record installation year as German projects raced to get installed before wind incentives became less generous. Activity in 2016 otherwise shows stable installation rates expected for the continent.

Growing Role of Wind and Renewables

Total wind capacity in Europe now stands at 153.7 GW, and wind energy covered 10.4% of Europe’s electricity needs in 2016. Germany installed the most new wind power capacity last year with 44% of the EU total. Five member states—France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania—had record years. France’s record was due to previously stalled wind incentives back in place for 2016 commissioning; Ireland saw a rush to connect projects before incentives are rolled back; and the Netherlands, Finland, and Lithuania all hit records with modest capacity additions outweighing previous small installation rates.

Renewables altogether accounted for 86% of new EU power plant installations in 2016, representing 21.1 GW of a 24.5 GW total. Investment in new onshore and offshore wind farms reached a record €27.5 billion (~$29.2 billion). Offshore wind investments rose 39% year over year to €18.2 billion (~$19.3 billion), while onshore investments were down 29% at €9.3 billion (~$9.9 billion).

Offshore wind represented 13% of the annual EU wind energy market installed capacity with 1,567 MW of new gross capacity connected to the grid in 2016. This is a 48.4% decrease compared with 2015, which was an exceptional year for offshore wind installation and grid connection due to delays in Germany getting resolved and 3.7 GW being installed. See Navigant’s Offshore Wind Market Update for detailed analysis of the market and supportive policies by country.

Offshore wind is a key growth area for wind in Europe, while onshore wind remains largely flat and is decreasing in some markets. This is the case in the United Kingdom, where onshore incentives were scrapped in early 2016 but retained for offshore. Similarly, incentives in Germany were reduced for onshore wind while being maintained for offshore wind.

Coal No Longer King

Also notable is that the installed wind capacity of 153.7 GW now has wind overtaking coal (152 GW) as the second largest form of power generation in Europe. In 2016, wind accounted for 51% of all new power installations in the region, and renewable energy accounted for 86% of all new EU power installations (21.1 GW of a total 24.5 GW of new power capacity). Solar had a strong showing with 6,700 MW, or 27.4% of 2016 installed capacity.

Conventional power sources such as fuel oil and coal continue to decommission more capacity than they install. Despite having decommissioned more than 2 GW this year, net gas-fired generation capacity continues to remain positive. Natural gas power plants saw 3,115 MW installed, representing 12.7% of all 2016 power generation capacity.

Since 2000, the net growth of wind power (142.6 GW), solar PV (101.2 GW), and natural gas (98.5 GW) capacity has coincided with the net reduction in fuel oil (down 37.6 GW), coal (down 37.3 GW), and nuclear (down 15.5 GW). The share of wind power in total installed power capacity has increased from 6% in 2005 to 16.7% in 2016, overtaking coal as the second largest form of power generation capacity in the EU and remaining first among renewables. Over the same period, renewables increased their share from 24% of total power capacity to 46%.

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