Nuclear remains main contributor to Europe’s power mix

20 May 2021

Nuclear power was the largest single contributor to Europe’s fuel mix in the first quarter of this year, according to a new study by electricity market analyst EnAppSys. The study showed that, although renewable energy made up more than four tenths of Europe’s fuel mix during the quarter, nuclear was the biggest single contributor with 26.2%, followed by hydro (18.3%) and gas (17.9%). However, the cold winter and the easing of COVID lockdown restrictions boosted demand for electricity, leading to higher-than-normal levels of fossil fuel generation.

Demand increased by around 10TWh compared with the same quarter in 2020, due mainly to a cold snap which saw temperatures around five degrees centigrade lower than average in February and March. This pushed overall generation levels up to 781TWh – an increase of 6% from the 739TWh in Q4 of 2020 and 2% higher than the 766TWh produced in Q1 last year. The colder-than-usual winter weather meant that Europe’s fossil fuel fleet produced 8% more than in Q1 2020, as more dispatchable generation was required to meet increased demand.

Jean-Paul Harreman, director of EnAppSys BV, said: “This winter has highlighted the continued importance of fossil fuels in periods of high demand. While the renewables fleet once again produced more than four tenths of the overall fuel mix, the cold winter weather meant that Europe had to rely on gas-fired plants and even the declining coal fleet to meet increased demand for electricity. The challenge is to become less reliant on fossil fuels as Europe moves towards a greener future, but the latest quarterly data shows that we’re not there yet.” 

He added: “Nuclear remains the largest single contributor to the fuel mix due to its high levels of installed capacity and fairly consistent operation. The second highest contributor varies depending on circumstance. This often used to be coal but the decommissioning of coal units across Europe has led to a reduction in its share over time. Now the amount of wind and rainfall, and so the amount of dispatchable thermal generation needed to meet demand, is the main factor in determining which fuel source takes second place.”

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