Wind and Solar Reach 7.5% of EU+ generation in 2012

The headline “European Union Gets 23.4% of Electricity From Renewables” published in CleanTechies [1] on April 3rd and posted on Blowout Week 14 [2] created a fair bit of email correspondence. Had wind and solar really made such inroads? Old hands knew that the statistic would include legacy hydro that may distort the message that was being sent. Where did the truth lie?

BP data [3] suggest that wind and solar accounted for 7.5% of EU+ electricity generation in 2012. So, is this a triumph or not?

Figure 1 Electricity generation in Europe according to BP [3]. The 21 EU members reported by BP are included + “other countries” that may include some countries outside of the EU, such as those in the Balkans. Norway and Switzerland are also included since they are integral parts of the European grid. The EU appears to be succeeding in phasing out fossil fuel and nuclear based thermal power generation, but at what cost to the pocket of consumers, GDP growth and viability of the electricity grid?
In 1990, “renewables” accounted for 18% of EU+ generation. In 2012 that figure had grown to 28%. My inclusion of Norway and Switzerland will bias this figure higher than that reported by CleanTechies since these countries both have high hydro generation.

Figure 2 EU+ electricity generation including Norway and Switzerland.

The big picture is significantly affected by “other renewables” that includes geothermal, biomass, chicken litter and landfill gas. On the one hand I see virtue in extracting usable energy from these sources but on the other wonder what price the consumer is paying through ROCs [4]?

To be fair to CleanTechies, their report provides a detailed breakdown of the various renewable sources that lie behind their numbers. But their headline may well result in a false belief among members of the public and political establishment at the progress being made in the delivery of the Green Dream.

The crux of the argument lies in the cost to the consumer and the landscape of that thin green and red band (Figure 1). And to the legacy generators that are bearing the cost burden of losing market share and providing load balancing service at politically distorted low prices [5]. In terms of the climate argument, there is only virtue in following this path if it goes to completion, that is the eventual abandonment of all fossil fuel fired power generation throughout the World. I believe the probability of that is near zero in the foreseeable future. Hence, this partial unilateral exercise by Europe is a Green vanity project that has no regard for the consequences for European citizens and commerce.

[1] CleanTechies: European Union Gets 23.4% of Electricity From Renewables
[2] Energy Matters: Blowout Week 14
[3] BP: BP: Statistical Review of World Energy 2013
[4] ROC: Renewables Obligation Certificate
[5] Energy Matters: Parasitic wind killing its host

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40 Responses to Wind and Solar Reach 7.5% of EU+ generation in 2012

  1. Fred Udo says:

    My question is: How much fuel was saved in 2012 by this 7,5% contribution of wind and sun.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Fred, the correct question to ask! In the Spring of 2013, that was very cold, UK gas storage was run down to empty as all LNG was heading east to Japan. It can be argued that Wind kept our lights on then since it conserved precious gas stocks. The broader question is more difficult to answer since racking the CCGTs up and down to balance the grid severely degrades their efficiency. This is one of these big contradictions. We all know that energy efficiency is a no brainer, but we are now running our grid in a very energy inefficient way.

      I will bare your question in mind.

      • Roger Andrews says:

        During 2012 wind and solar power in the EU “saved” the energy equivalent of 61.3 Mtoe, representing 3.7% of total EU primary energy consumption and 0.5% of total world primary energy consumption.

        • Glen Mcmillian says:


          Where did you get this figure of 61.3 Mtoe?

          I have been trying for a long time to come up with some useful figures on the amounts of coal and gas that might or might not be saved thru having wind and solar farms. I believe it is substantial but I will not dispute that it requires the inefficient operation of some gas fired plants.The gas plant owners and or operators should be fairly paid for their services of course but there is more to this question than just who gets how much money.

          It should be obvious that home grown wind and solar power are worth more than coal and gas fired power if the country in question has to have foreign exchange earnings to pay for imported coal and gas.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Glen, Get hold of the BP stat review that provides national and global renewables consumption statistics in tonnes oil equivalent (TOE). In 2012 Solar amounted to 21 MTOE, wind 118 MTOE and total renewables ex hydro 237 MTOE. BP gross actual consumption up by a factor of 2.6 to account for thermal losses in conventional FF plant.

            If you see my recent post on Portugal you will see how renewables can benefit trade balance. It is one of the most powerful arguments in their favour.

  2. Jim Pollard says:

    G’day Euan,

    If Scotland decides to go it alone, would its renewable contribution change much from that of the UK as a whole??

    Jim Pollard

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Jim, the renewable electricity % in Scotland would shoot up – we have loads of wind and virtually all the hydro, and it would fall in the rest of the former UK by a little. But significantly, we have been told that an independent Scotland may not expect to depend upon CCGTs based in England to provide balancing services, or for English clients to pay for the client subsidies for renewables in Scotland – ROCs and FiTs.

  3. clivebest says:

    7.5% is really rather pathetic when you compare that to the EU total spending on renewables. Germany is committed to spend €5 billion/year in subsidies just for solar panels which contribute 0.7% of their electricity and another €10 billion in subsidies for wind. The UK spends €10 billion in subsidizing wind and solar to achieve 7% of our electricity. So you would imagine that to get 70% from wind the UK would have only have to spend €100 billion a year in subsidies. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that because the more wind you have the more energy you throw away for example when – when full power occurs at 4am, and you will still need 100% backup just in case of still conditions across northern Europe.

    • Willem Post says:

      In 2014, the EEG program will spend about 24.5 b euro to buy wind, solar, etc., energy which gets sold for about 5 b euro. The difference is mostly charged to household electric bills, resulting in a surcharge of 6.24 c/ kWh., with wholesale prices at about 5c/ kWh.

  4. Vijay Bhopal says:

    Thanks for this post Euan, it has provided much food for thought.

  5. Peter says:

    How much of that 7.5 percent is required. There would be great variations of electricity generated by these sources due to wind or sunlight. I could imagine the more traditional thermal electricity generators operating at higher capacities to take into account that wind or solar could suffer immediate halts to production. Ie to meet 100 mw requirement, thermal would normally run at to 105 mw and adjust accordingly. To meet 100 mw with a mix of thermal, wind and solar, if the wind and solar make up 15 mw, does the thermal run at 95 mw just in case solar and wind die off? So does a 7.5 percent of electricity generation being made by wind and solar, equate to other sources only being used at 92.5 percent capacity as compared to before?

  6. power says:

    Europe generated 12.73% power in 2013 from new renewable sources

    If we include the hydro power as “renewable” the percent is 30.11%

    • Roger Andrews says:

      In 2012 Europe (EU27 plus Norway and Switzerland) generated 5.5% of its primary energy requirements from “new renewable sources”. Not a very impressive performance when you consider all the money that’s been spent doing it.

      • power says:

        That is not true. In 2012 Europe (EU27 plus Norway and Switzerland) generated 10.84% real power from “new renewable sources” and that is very impressive if you consider the facts when Europe started using them and how fast their prices are falling down.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          “That is not true ”

          Well, have it out with BP. They’re the source of the numbers. I regard BP as a more reliable source than ENTSO, which is an EU-sponsored renewable energy cheerleader.

    • Clive Best says:

      I don’t know where you get your figures from, but I strongly suspect they relate to ‘installed capacity’ . Wind load factors are about 25% in which case if you divide your figures by 4 then they agree with Euans. I have measured the contribution of wind to peak load on the grid for the UK this winter. It is 6.6% see

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hi Power, its a nice resource you have made. My total renewables number is 28%, not so different to yours. We are in part using the same data source – BP – but you are using an additional source that seems to provide a breakdown of the smaller countries in the Balkans etc. I used the BP “other countries” category” where there is always the danger that some small former Soviet States get included. You are also including Iceland, which I don’t think I am – I’m not home right now to check.

      The big difference is in your headline number of 12.73% for “new renewable sources” and my figure of 7.5% for wind and solar. Can you provide us with your figure for wind+solar alone? I’m guessing you may have included “other renewable” in your “new renewables” category – where other is mainly biomass and geothermal.

  7. power says:

    We are not talking about ‘installed capacity’. We are talking about real generated power.
    The data come from ENTSO which is probably the best and most reliable source. I do not like the data from Eurostat in that area.

    For wind n 2012 we have 5.68%
    and for solar 2.02%
    which is 7.7% and it is close to your figure after all

    Geothermal share is too small, but the other renewables are “renewable” and one should say hydro power is also “renewable” because we do not want to replace it with wind and solar, even if some people think it kills fish ( there are ways to go around that)

    The increase of 2% of the renewable share might look small, but it is not. If Europe generated 30.11% renewable power in 2013 we need 30-35 years to replace almost all the dirty power at this pace. I hope as the renewables get cheaper and cheaper and their number gets bigger we can get rid of nuclear, coals and gas somewhere arround 2035

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Power, Its good that we at least agree on the numbers. I agree that hydro should be counted with renewables as should the other renewables sources, so long as you don’t mind the felling of virgin hardwood forests in the USA to provide us with electricity. If you want to dispense with flexible FF capacity and base load nuclear capacity then you MUST have a means for truly massive and affordable electricity / energy storage that currently does not exist and if / when it does will likely add significantly to the cost of already expensive power supplies. In aiming for 100% renewables you need to bear the following in mind:

      1) The environmental impact of windmills everywhere – maybe a factor of 10 up from today
      2) The cost of electricity to poor, hard pressed consumers.
      3) The invention of affordable grid scale storage
      4) Managing the transition away from FF where FF generators are providing priceless load balancing service but are at the same time being put out of business
      5) Be aware that forests and woodland habitats are being destroyed in a quest to save the environment.

      You should have a look at these articles:

      Electricity supply and demand for beginners

      Parasitic wind killing its host

  8. power says:

    I can not answer all your questions at once but I will try to answer the most important. The wind power lobby talk lots of rubbish – I will not argue for that. To measure power in GW, not in GWh is stupid. I think the near future belongs to the renewables however:

    1. I don’t think we can get 100% renewable power from wind and solar, but in 2013 Denmark generated 34.50% power only from wind, Portugal – 24.57%, Spain – 20.16%. If they can do it, everyone can do it.

    If there is no wind, normally there is sun or there should be another renewable source or gas to cover the needs. The import is another option. Let’s get at first share 60-70% from renewables. We might be able to store power till then.

    2. About the price. I have seen the data in your second link but I have some notes. They are only about UK and only the price for power from a new NPP is confirmed. I can argue that the power from wind and solar is cheaper then from a new nuclear reactor already in many parts of Europe. The solar power is getting lower every month till the nuclear power is going higher. The solar and wind power are bellow 90EUR/MWh in some parts of Europe already. The power from a new NPP can not be bellow 110EUR/MWh – everything else are empty promises of the nuclear power lobby and they can never happen. Look at the new nuclear reactors in France and Finland – 3 times over budget and at least 4 years delay. That is nothing new in the history of building NPPs

    So about that – 2) The cost of electricity to poor, hard pressed consumers. –
    I will say, just don’t build NPP to rob the consumers. Unfortunately the nuclear power lobby often are able to start a new NPP with corruption and empty promises and later to press the consumers for more money “to minimize the losses” and to complete it. Many NPPs can not be completed for more then 30 years and are in a state “under construction”. The nuclear power lobby keep on advertising with them the nuclear power to new customers, the investors usually don’t make losses and the costumers pay all the billions at the end.

    I read that you criticize the subsidies for renewables, but I think it worth it to pay them. Like we pay for science. They are clean, they are renewable and after all every 1 MW power renewable means independence from countries which are not very reliable. If you pay in 2014 $6 billions for wind turbine you might pay less 6 billions less for russian gas in 2015.

    I will be glad to discuss more those issues with you.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      but in 2013 Denmark generated 34.50% power only from wind, Portugal – 24.57%, Spain – 20.16%. If they can do it, everyone can do it.

      Well actually no. Denmark can only do what they do because they are connected to the gigantic Norwegian and Swedish hydro grids that provide all of the load balancing service – at a cost. Portugal and Spain i believe both have substantial hydro capacity that provides load balancing service. You should check out this from 8 years ago:

      And this site:

      Paul-Frederik was the engineer responsible for designing the Nord Pool system that enabled Denmark to reach 34% wind.

    • Roger Andrews says:

      “every 1 MW power renewable means independence from countries which are not very reliable.”

      I’m trying to think of an energy-exporting country that would be a less reliable source of supply than intermittent wind power. So far I haven’t come up with any.

      • Patrick R says:

        How about Libyan oil then? Bit unreliable of late, Oh or UK oil as export; seems to have vanished.

        What’s worse; intermittency or impermanence?

  9. power says:

    Euan, I think that balancing the grid is the only serious problem in front of wind and solar power. The price is not anymore. If Europe did not pay billions for subsidies last years, the gas price would not be $450/tcm now, it would be $600/tcm. The money would have gone anyway but the situation would be much worse.

    I don’t think Denmark can generate 34% power from wind ONLY because it is connected to Norwegian and Swedish hydro grids or only one person can solve the problems of balancing the grid of a whole country. Thousands of people and thousands of computers are usually involved in a task like that. In 2006 many people believed that a country should generate no more then 20% power from wind and PV combined. You can see that couple of countries passed that limit and they still have more options and reserves to go for 40 or 50%

    I read what Paul-Frederik said. In general he says nothing against renewables. One should not make hard conclusions from the prices at a power exchange. The brokers can raise there the price based on nothing. Paul-Frederik says also if there is no wind in France today we should expect to have no wind in Belgium as well. OK. That is true. But we need longer transmission lines to get power from another county not to have constant output for the wind power. It does not make sense to discuss a grid with 100% wind power as it does not make sense to discuss a grid with 100% nuclear power. Both of them are not real. But if you have longer transmission lines at first your power peak in UK will be different from that in Austria. Or if you have no wind in Germany you will have sun in Italy or extra nuclear power in France. If Italy generates more PV power it should have gas left to send it as LNG to UK where UK can balance the wind power.

    Balancing the grid with big share of renewables is a big challenge but it worth it and that is the only way to go for clean, cheap and renewable power and independence from not reliable countries. We need longer transmission lines, integrated power hubs of all sources of power, many computers and periods like 15 minutes or 10 min for power trading.

    And it works in some aspects already. Look at this table which I think it is very interesting:

    One would expect Europe would need more and more gas to balance the grid at 12.73% renewable power. But what happened? The renewable power did not replaced the nuclear power, it did not replaced the coals and the hydro power. It did replaced the power from gas, which many people told us would increase dramatically because “if there is no wind, there is no wind power” and it would be very difficult to solve that problem. It did not happen in that way. Those are the facts.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Power, this is one of the more important charts that all politicians and electricity commentators should be familiar with:

      It shows three demand cycles, 1) daily, 2)weekly and 3) seasonal. Peak winter demand is almost three times minimum summer demand. The electricity supply system needs the controlability and flexibility to match.

      Sure, increasing the grid size with greater connectivity may help a little, but it does not solve the problem and at what cost? When you talk of unreliable suppliers – which countries are you thinking about?

      The main argument you make that I can accept is the future cost of gas (and other FF) linked to scarcity combined with the benefit of indigenous supply. But then Greens go off and conflate indigenous supply with secure supply. Indigenous gas is secure supply. Indigenous wind is not. Imported gas is secure supply for so long as the supplier has gas to export and the importer can pay for it and lines of transportation remain open.

      The table you link to is interesting as it shows the CCGT operators going out of business. This is after all the objective of UK and EU energy policy – to put FF based power generation out of business. And yet they are absolutely essential to balancing of the grid and providing power when the wind does not blow. How do you propose to address that problem. And what is the motive for creating the problem in the first place?

    • Roger Andrews says:

      I haven’t checked the numbers for Europe, but renewables haven’t “replaced the power from gas” in the UK. The decrease in UK gas generation between 2010 and 2012 was offset mostly by increased generation from coal, and the shift from gas to coal occurred because coal was cheaper. Renewables were, as usual, just a bit player.

      On the question of how much wind energy Denmark could generate if it wasn’t “connected to Norwegian and Swedish hydro grids”, Hugh Sharman ‘s 2012 analysis suggests around 10% of total demand.

      • power says:

        Roger, I would agree that something like 2/3 of gas generation was replaced by coals and 1/3 was replaced by renewables. I said the nuclear and hydro power generation were almost constant in Europe for the last 3 years. Generation from coals increased almost everywhere. The power production also dropped by 4% in UK and 2.9% for Europe and that should go with the coals and the renewables to the same side of the equation.
        When the percentage of renewables (not only wind) becomes bigger it should start replacing the coals and nuclear.

        I can not agree with the limit of 10% for wind generation in Denmark without the help of Norwegian and Swedish hydro grids. Germany has almost 10% wind power already and nobody can help them completely from outside generating 47,849 GWh – that is the power generation of 7 nuclear reactors (1000 MW). And Spain generated 55,356GWh even more in 2013. Sweden also generated 6.54% wind power in 2013. Should they help Denmark or themselves when they get 10% in 2-3 years?

        That is what I wanted to say – one needs more gas to balance the grid, but one does not know exactly how much. One can only guess and create different theories. People made predictions 3 years ago and many of them said we need to increase the gas generation when we increase the wind generation because the wind and the PV power are not stable.

        The fact that the gas generation dropped so much when the wind power increased means that there was plenty of gas power for balancing the grid even before that, maybe even couple of times more. That is why the wind power strarted replacing the gas power. If we needed the gas power for balancing that would not be possible. So, there is enough gas power even now for balancing much bigger share of wind power. And if you add the other options to increase the share of wind power like increasing the length of the transmission lines you might achieve over 30% share just from wind for the whole Europe.

          • power says:

            Roger, I read what you wrote. $5,600 installed capital cost/kw looks high even for new offshore wind capacity.
            It is about 1250EUR/KW for onshore, new wind capacity. The prices do not change much at the moment but the capacity factor gets better. The nuclear power goes for 6000 EUR/KW and PV goes for under 1000 EUR/KW installed capacity already.

            If you think that UK can generate 20% from wind that is not so bad after all.
            Let’s say, if in 2045 we can have in EU 20% hydro, 30% PV, 20-30% gas, geothermal, biomass, etc. Who will need more then 20-30% wind power then?

          • Roger Andrews says:

            Power: Thanks for reading what I wrote.

            However, your 2045 generation mix (20% hydro, 30% solar PV, 20-30% gas, geothermal, biomass, etc. 20-30% wind) isn’t going to work. You could probably get away with the hydro, wind, gas etc, but not with the 30% solar. The problem with grid-scale solar in Europe is that output moves in antiphase to demand, peaking during warm summer days when electricity demand is at a minimum but delivering no electricity at all during cold winter nights when demand is roughly twice as high. Relying on solar for 30% of total generation will therefore result in a large electricity oversupply during warm summer days (read curtailments) and a large shortfall during cold winter nights (read blackouts).

            30% solar would work with enormous amounts of battery or pumped hydro storage, but it would be simpler and probably more cost-effective in the long run to go 30% nuclear instead. (Note, incidentally, that I’m not anti-solar. I have 2.25kw of solar panels on the roof that supply all of my domestic electricity needs and which for the last couple of months have been delivering surplus electricity to the grid.)

            Another problem with your proposal is that only 44% of Europe’s primary energy (737 of 1673 MTOE in the EU in 2012) comes from electricity, so when you decarbonize Europe’s electric power generation by 80%, which is about what your mix would achieve, you’ve decarbonized Europe’s economy by only 35%. Still a long way to go.

          • power says:

            I think 30% solar in 2045 might work. Do not forget that the PV prices might drop couple of times more so we can afford to use let’s say 30% of their capacity in the summer. Do not forget the demand in the hottest days is bigger the in the coldest days. Solar power is also reliable in a sense it can not go off as one NPP. and it can not stuck somewhere on the transmission lines. There are options to store power but it is early to discuss them.

            Electric cars should take bigger share. 100,000 plug-in cars were sold in US in 2013.

            I am not so concerned about the CO2. The problems to have cheaper and independent energy sources are not less important and renewables can solve them.

  10. William Mackin says:

    @Euarn Means There are virtually no virgin hardwood forests outside of protected parks in the USA. They are felling second growth that will likely be allowed to regrow. At least allowing forest owners to fell their timber and regrow it might give them an incentive to not convert their land to Walmarts, strip malls, and sprawling development. Not that I am a huge fan of it because of the environmental destruction of clear cuts, but that power is renewable in theory and the CO2 came out of the air over the last 50 years – that’s about how long it takes for a US forest to regrow to woodchips. If you want, you can make rules about what happens with the land and the logging techniques used to make the wood chips. It seems stupid to transport wood that far to meet a renewable standard, but again it is better than tar sands and offshore drilling of carbon that has to stay in the ground to keep a livable climate.

  11. clivebest says:

    power says :

    It is about 1250EUR/KW for onshore, new wind capacity. The prices do not change much at the moment but the capacity factor gets better. The nuclear power goes for 6000 EUR/KW and PV goes for under 1000 EUR/KW installed capacity already.

    For wind the load capacity for on-shore wind is 80% and has a huge advantage that down time can be planned in advance.

    Applying these figures we get for installation costs: on-shore Wind €4200/KW , PV= €10,000/KW. Nuclear = €7500/KW

    The operating and maintenance costs of nuclear and wind are almost the same.

    For a new machine, O&M costs mighthave an average share over the lifetime of the turbine of about 20-25% of total levellised cost per kWh produced.see here

    As a rule of thumb for nuclear the operational costs and fuel costs are 20% of the capital costs.

    So it would appear that wind is about 30% cheaper than nuclear per KWh produced. However there are two fundamental differences that have been overlooked in this simplified analysis.

    1. The lifetime of a wind turbine is 20 years whereas the lifetime of a nuclear plant is 60 years. Each wind turbine needs to be replaced 3 times during the lifetime of a nuclear plant.

    2. The output of a nuclear plant is guaranteed to be available when needed. Wind is indeterminate and will always need alternative sources for backup when load capacity falls essentially to zero.

    If we add in these two effects then a more realistic estimate of overall cost comparisons averaged over a 60 year period makes nuclear energy less than half the cost of wind energy.

    • clivebest says:

      Somehow that sentence got garbled. It should have read:

      The load capacity for on-shore wind in the UK is 80% and has the huge advantage that down time can be planned in advance.


      • clivebest says:

        WordPress does not like ‘less than’ signs ! I’ll try again

        For wind the load capacity for on-shore wind in the UK is less than 30% whereas for nuclear it is greater than 80% and nuclear has the huge advantage that any down time can be planned in advance.

  12. Leo Smith says:

    “The crux of the argument lies in the cost to the consumer and the landscape of that thin green and red band ”

    Actually Euan, the crux of the matter ought to be if you are a dyed in the wool Carbonista

    “How much less carbon was in fact emitted as a result?”.

    But that is never ever discussed, is it?

    No one ACTUALLY measures carbon intensity of a grid OVERALL as renewable energy penetrates it.

    They daren’t. The results would simply destroy the case for intermittent renewables.

    Why do we have ‘renewable obligations’ not ‘carbon reductions targers?’

    Largely because they are totally independent things and bear little relationship to each other. When used in real world context intermittent renewable that cannot be co-operated with hydro power represent a totally ineffective solution to the ‘problem’ of CO2 emissions, whetrher or not you actually believe that to be a problem in the first place.

    • Clive Best says:


      You are completely right. This is the real contradiction of wind energy because it disrupts all other generating sources. The analogy is comparing the fuel economy of a car driving at a constant 70 mph down a motorway to that of a car stuck in heavy traffic. Twice as much fuel is needed to travel the same distance.

      Unpredictable surges and falls in wind power act like the brakes and accelerators on the fossil fuel generators. Efficiency drops and carbon emissions increase. In addition to your excellent report there is now a recent doctoral thesis by Eleanor Denny of Trinity College

      She finds that beyond 20%, attaching more wind power produces NEGATIVE benefits. It actually costs you more in wasted fuel on the rest of the system than the fuel saving the wind farms are producing. In other words, if you turned off the wind farm you would be generating the same amount of energy on the grid using less fuel overall for less cost.

      She deduces the 20% figure by worked examples on the Irish Grid. The paper shows that with theoretical ideal best assumptions (not achievable in practice) you may be able to connect 30% wind to a grid, and with worst assumptions 5% before the cost benefit goes negative.

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