Map of low carbon net electricity generation in Europe, as explained in the article text Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics

Map of low carbon net electricity generation in Europe, as explained in the article text. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics

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Penetration rates of no-carbon generation have increased from 50% to 56% in recent years in Europe, as European Union countries work toward renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions targets. Increasing levels of renewable generation, along with nuclear generation, mean that many European countries generate a large share of their electricity from no-carbon sources.

No-carbon sources generate power while releasing virtually no carbon dioxide emissions, and include geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear, solar (both utility scale and distributed solar), tidal, and wind generation. Although biomass power plants emit carbon dioxide during operation, the full life cycle of biomass fuels is often considered to be carbon neutral for the purposes of satisfying these countries’ goals.

France, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland each generated more than 90% of their net electricity from no-carbon sources in 2012, and eight other countries had no-carbon electricity accounting for at least 50% of their generation.

The share of no-carbon generation in European countries is expected to continue to increase, as the European Union’s 2020 Climate and Energy Package targets both a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in the share of energy consumption generated from renewable sources.

There has already been a substantial increase in no-carbon generation since 2002, as countries have added renewables to their generation mix (see graph).

EuropeNoCarbon Sourcestab1
Graph of no-carbon electricity generation share in Europe and the United States (2012), as described in the article text Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics

Eighteen countries generate at least one-third of their generation from no carbon sources, and 13 generate at least half, up from 13 and 10, respectively, in 2002.Increased generation from solar, wind, and biomass has made up most of the change.

For example, while Germany’s overall no-carbon generation share rose only modestly between 2002 and 2012, from 38% to 41%, there has been a big shift within the no-carbon portfolio, with the nuclear generation share falling by 12 percentage points over this period.

Germany’s share of solar, wind, and biomass generation increased by 15 percentage points over the same period.

Like the United States, which generated 32% of its electricity from no-carbon sources in 2012, countries in Europe generate most of their no-carbon electricity from nuclear and hydroelectric sources, along with a smaller portfolio of other renewables. There are some exceptions, however; along with hydroelectric power, almost 30% of Iceland’s total net electricity generation came from geothermal sources in 2012, while Denmark generated more than 50% of its electricity from wind and biomass.

Principal contributors: Brian Murphy, Alex Abramowitz