The share of zero-carbon generation in the region reached an all-time high of 66 per cent in the third quarter of the year, helping keep the lights on and cut fossil fuel import bills.
Power prices in Europe and the UK have skyrocketed in recent months as a result of rallying wholesale prices of coal, gas and carbon in tandem with power demand rebounding to pre-pandemic levels, and against a background of low fuel reserves in Europe and delays in commodity exports from producing countries.
The last week of September saw these commodities trading at all-time highs -- coal delivered to Europe traded at $233 per tonne, while fossil gas reached euro 92/MWh and CO2 emissions priced at nearly 65 euro per tonne.
The price volatility in EU and UK power markets are a timely reminder that reliance on fossil imports is risky and expensive. During this time, renewables in most European countries covered a significant portion of demand, despite reports of lower generation output, shielding some part of the mix from the effects of fuel costs that would have likely required more gas.
In the EU, wind and solar capacity generated an average output of 50 GW in the July-September period, a record high, delivering 28 per cent of all power generation.
With nuclear generating an additional 76 GW (21 per cent of power generation), their combined output effectively covered the equivalent of 126 large coal or gas power plants running full steam, leaving 26 per cent of power generation from gas and another 13 per cent from coal.
If this zero-carbon power had to be generated from gas, at the average of the record high prices seen over these months, it would have added approximately 26 billion euros to the gas import bill, with hydropower avoiding another 7 billion euros.
This is assuming no increase in fuel prices due to the additional demand and therefore represents a very conservative lower bound.
Similarly, zero-carbon technologies in Britain accounted for half of the power generated from July to September.
Wind and solar had an average output of 5.4 GW, while nuclear generated 4.6 GW over the same period. This is the total output from 10 large coal or gas power plants running full steam.
If this power had to be generated from gas, at the average prices each month, the additional gas import bill would have been about 2.2 billion euros, with hydro bringing the total up to 2.3 billion euros.