Nearly 90% of all new power added in Europe last year was renewable—completely eclipsing coal

This is a power plant, too
This is a power plant, too
Image: Jason Blackeye
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A few weeks after US president Donald Trump vowed to refocus America’s energy on extracting fossil fuels, a report published by a wind industry group found that nearly 90 percent of new energy capacity added to the grid across the European Union in 2016 came from renewable sources.

Of the 24.5 new gigawatts of power plant capacity built in Europe in 2016, 21.1 gigawatts, or 86%, was in the form of new wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectric installations.

For comparison, although the numbers are not yet finalized, about 63% of new energy capacity in the US came from renewable sources, according to the US Energy Information Administration. That’s about 15 gigawatts of the new 24 gigawatts of capacity added.

In Europe, wind power was the stand-out star of the renewable capacity boom: For the first time, the amount of new wind capacity eclipsed that of new coal capacity, making up 51 percent of all new power installations last year, the industry group WindEurope reports.

That means wind power now has the second largest energy capacity in Europe, after natural gas. But the most capacity to generate energy does not always translate to the most energy actually provided; as the Guardian points out, coal is still meeting more of Europe’s energy demand overall, because wind power in inherently intermittent—when there’s no wind, there’s no power.

But on a more regional level, the story was different. In the UK, for example, wind power did deliver more actual electricity to homes and businesses than coal in 2016 for the first time ever.

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And after aggressively ramping up renewable energy capacity, Germany hit a significant symbolic milestone for a single day in 2016, when at 2pm on a Sunday in May solar and wind power briefly fulfilled nearly 100% of the entire country’s energy demand.

Wind power alone made up almost 9% of Europe’s energy use yesterday, according to WindEurope’s daily wind power-tracking tool, for a total of 892 gigawatt-hours of energy. That’s the equivalent to the electricity demand of 90 million European households, or just over 30 percent of Europe’s total industrial electricity use.