EU records annual rise of 7 TWh in third-quarter solar output


The spectacular rise of solar – in many cases subsidy-free – in Spain helped drive renewables to a 40% share of the nation's energy mix in the third quarter of 2020, with the result “coal has virtually disappeared from the mix.”

That was one of the notable findings from the Quarterly report on European electricity markets published by the EU.

According to the update, solar generation across the bloc rose a record 7 TWh from July-to-September 2019 to the same period of last year, to supply 8% of the EU's total energy mix, although hydro and wind power still lead the clean energy stats.


Some 2.3 TWh more solar electricity was generated in Spain during the third quarter than in the same period of 2019, helping depress energy prices in Iberia between Covid-19 lockdowns. Germany generated 1.8 TWh more solar power during the period, the Netherlands 800 GWh more and Italy and France 500 GWh more each, with the update noting Poland‘s solar output rose 190% on the figure seen in the third quarter of 2019, to 800 GWh, and Hungarian solar performance rose 73%, year-on-year.

That was not enough to spare Polish power consumers the pain caused by a carbon price which held an average level of more than €27/ton during the three-month window, according to last week's report, thanks to the nation's continuing dependence on coal. The update highlighted that carbon price held firm with the help of statements of intent on carbon emissions by the EU authorities.

Nuclear power was a big loser in a quarter which closed with electricity demand again beginning to retreat as the second wave of Covid-19 began to be evident in Europe. Reactors supplied 23% of Europe's power in the third quarter, with the 28 TWh of electricity generated 16% down on the same period of the previous year. That was largely caused by outages and maintenance overruns but the EU document noted nuclear plants were forced to close in Sweden as renewables drove down the electricity price to very low levels. The update stated hydro and wind were the biggest clean energy contributors in the Nord Pool energy market which includes the Baltic and Nordic nations.

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That loss of nuclear prompted a slowdown in the rate of the decarbonization of European electricity that was partly compensated for by a rise in the contribution of all renewables to the energy mix, from 33% in the second quarter to 37%. European clean power peaked at 55% of the mix on a sunny and windy July 5 which saw German renewables supply all electricity demand from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.


The importance of grid flexibility was emphasized by swings in the wholesale power price during the quarter, with a lack of wind on September 15 seeing the evening peak price hit €189/MWh. At the other end of the scale, the incidence of hours during which power prices went into negative territory rose 133% year on year, to 1,467 such periods. Ireland led the way as its wind power expansion helped it hit negative power prices 51 times in Q3.

The document also noted an historic rise in the number of ‘electrically-chargeable passenger vehicles' registered in the EU during the third quarter. A record 273,000 ‘ECVs' amounted to 10% of the new car market for a 202% year-on-year rise as one in three new cars sold in the third quarter in Sweden came with a plug socket. The market was helped along by supportive electric vehicle policy and incentives, the EU document again noted, except in the case of Denmark, where sales advanced despite a lack of such subsidies.

The copy and headline of this story were amended on 19/01/21 to reflect the 7 TWh third-quarter figure quoted represented an annual rise in output rather than the total solar output in Q3, as previously indicated.

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