By Paul Davies and Rosa Espin

Last year, 86 % of the 24.5 GW of new generating capacity installed in the EU came from renewable energy sources, specifically from wind, solar, biomass and hydro, breaking the previous record of 79% in 2014. This new water mark makes clear that the EU is seeking to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuel plants with new forms of renewable energy in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

For the first time, wind overtake coal in terms of capacity as wind energy was the most installed power generation source in 2016, representing a 51 % of all the new installed power capacity of the EU. Of the new 12.5 GW of wind power, 10.9 GW was installed onshore while 1.6 GW added offshore.

According to figures published by the WindEurope trade group, wind energy grew 8 percent in 2016 reaching 153.7 GW and now accounts for 17% of Europe’s total installed power generation capacity. Only natural gas generation, with 186 GW of capacity, remains above wind.

Interestingly, in relation to wind power generation, not every country is following the same path. Germany has installed 44% of Europe’s new wind capacity last year, having three times more wind power than any country of the EU. Following a similar trend, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Lithuania all set records for new windfarm installations. In contrast, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, which together drove much of the growth of windfarms in the 2000s decade, now account for a small percentage of new wind installations. It is also worth highlighting the position in Poland, which last year passed a law establishing a limit of how close wind turbines can be to buildings, which produced a stalling effect in the wind industry.

Although wind power has overtaken coal as the EU’s second-largest potential source of energy (coal having 152 GW of capacity, after member states decommissioned 7.5 GW of coal capacity in 2016) due to the technology’s intermittent nature, wind power hasn’t yet overtaken coal share in total power generation.

Notwithstanding the above, there is still a long way to go for wind power in the EU as its total installed capacity sums up only to 153.7 GW out of the region’s 918.8 GW of total power capacity. According to various commentators in the wind sector, the industry is hoping much of its growth will come from filling the gap as governments force old coal power plants to close in order to meet climate change goals.