Mapped: Europe’s Biggest Sources of Electricity by Country
Energy and electricity supply have become vital for nearly every European nation over the past year, as the region shifts away from its dependence on Russian fuel imports.
While many countries have been making progress in their energy transition away from fossil fuels, nearly half of European countries are still dependent on them as their primary source of electricity generation.
This graphic maps out European countries by their top source of electricity generation using data from Electricity Maps and the IEA , along with a breakdown of the EU’s overall electricity generation by source in 2021.
Europe’s Electricity Generation by Energy Source
Europe has been steadily transitioning towards renewable sources of energy for their electricity generation, making considerable progress over the last decade.
In 2011, fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) made up 49% of the EU’s electricity production while renewable energy sources only made up 18%. A decade later, renewable energy sources are coming close to equaling fossil fuels, with renewables making up 32% of the EU’s electricity generation compared to fossil fuels’ 36% in 2021.
|Source||EU Electricity Generation Share (2011)||EU Electricity Generation Share (2021)|
The expansion of wind and solar generation have been the primary drivers in this shift towards renewables, going from only generating 8% of the EU’s electricity in 2011 all the way to 19% in 2021. While this might still seem small, the EU’s share of wind and solar electricity generation is tied for first alongside Oceania when compared to other regions around the world.
While hydropower doesn’t make up as big of a share as other sources, it’s the most common primary source of electricity generation in Europe, playing an important role in providing renewable energy.
Nuclear energy is the largest single source of electricity generation in the EU and across Europe despite its decline over the past couple of decades. Back in 2001, nuclear energy made up one-third (33%) of the EU’s electricity generation, and in the following 20 years fell down to 25%.
The Primary Electricity Sources of Europe’s Major Nations
When looking at individual nations, the majority of Europe’s largest countries have fossil fuels as their largest primary single source of electricity.
Germany remains heavily reliant on coal power, which from 2017 to 2021 generated 31% of the nation’s electricity. Despite the dependence on the carbon intensive fossil fuel, wind and solar energy generation together made up more of Germany’s electricity generation at 33% (23% for wind and 10% for solar).
France is Europe’s largest economy that primarily relies on nuclear power, with nuclear power making up more than half of the country’s electricity production.
Italy , the UK , and the Netherlands are all primarily natural gas powered when it comes to their electricity generation from 2017 to 2021. While Italy is the most reliant of the three at 42% of electricity generated by natural gas, the Netherlands (40%), and the UK (38%) aren’t too far off.
Spain is an outlier among major European nations and a success story in a transition towards renewable energy sources. While in the period from 2017-2021 the country was primarily dependent on natural gas (29%), in 2022 natural gas’ contribution to electricity generation fell to 14% as wind rose up to become the primary electricity generator with a 32% share.
Accelerating the EU’s Energy Transition
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy independence in the EU has become of utmost importance, and countries have taken the opportunity to accelerate their transition towards renewable energy sources.
A new report from Ember highlights how the transition made considerable progress in 2022, with solar and wind power (22%) overtaking natural gas (20%) in electricity generation for the first time ever.
While 2022 did see an increase in fossil fuel electricity generation for the EU, Ember is expecting it to decline in 2023 by as much as 20%. If the EU can sustain this accelerated shift away from fossil fuels, this map of primary energy sources of electricity generation could feature many more renewable and low-carbon energy sources in the near future.
Charted: Global Energy Consumption by Source, and Carbon Emissions (1900-2021)
Despite the advent of renewable sources of energy, fossil fuels and their carbon emissions, haven’t gone anywhere.
Where does our energy come from, and how has this mix changed over the last 100 years?
These charts from Truman Du examine the complex relationship between energy production, consumption, and related carbon emissions using information from Our World in Data .
The World’s Energy Mix (1900-2021)
In the last 10 years, total global energy consumption has risen nearly 15% . Before that, between 2000 and 2010, it increased by nearly 25% .
And despite frequent headlines about green initiatives over the last few years, fossil fuels continue to account for the majority of total energy consumption.
In 2021, 77% of global energy was sourced from coal, oil, and gas.
Even so, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro have gained traction since the year 2000. Hydropower was the biggest renewable energy source in 2021, accounting for 6.3% of total energy consumed.
A Fossil Fuel Heavy Mix
Taking a closer look at the breakdown of energy by source, another strong (if slightly counterintuitive) trend appears to be holding its own.
Coal has remained a key source of the world’s energy consumption since 1900. Despite its relative share decreasing over time, as of 2021, coal remains the second biggest energy source, accounting for 25% of the world’s energy needs. All figures below are in TWh (terrawatt-hours).
|Global Energy Consumption||1900||1950||2000||2010||2021|
|Solar||-||-||3 TWh||94 TWh||2,702 TWh|
|Wind||-||-||93 TWh||962 TWh||4,872 TWh|
|Nuclear||-||-||7,323 TWh||7,374 TWh||7,031 TWh|
|Hydro||47 TWh||925 TWh||7,826 TWh||9,518 TWh||11,183 TWh|
|Gas||64 TWh||2,092 TWh||23,994 TWh||31,589 TWh||40,375 TWh|
|Oil||181 TWh||5,444 TWh||42,881 TWh||47,895 TWh||51,170 TWh|
|Coal||5,728 TWh||12,603 TWh||27,428 TWh||41,996 TWh||44,473 TWh|
|Total||12,131 TWh||28,564 TWh||122,745 TWh||152,966 TWh||176,431 TWh|
From its crucial role in the Industrial Revolution, to its relative cheapness and useful byproducts, coal isn’t close to being phased out anytime soon. In fact, it has seen a resurgence in powering India and China’s growing economies in the 21st century.
As fossil fuel use has increased in absolute terms, so have carbon emissions.
Carbon Emissions in 1900 vs. 2020
China, the U.S., India, Russia, and Japan are the top five emitters in the world, responsible for 60% of the world’s total emissions in 2020.
As these countries include the world’s largest economic powers, some believe emissions are a necessary byproduct of economic growth. Though there are exceptions, this seems to have held true on average, as studies show a 1% change in GDP is correlated with a 0.072 change in carbon dioxide emissions.
When looking at the chart of carbon emissions below, China’s journey of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century exemplifies this.
China’s emissions increased dramatically, rising by six times from 1978 to 2018 alone, driven primarily by economic growth.
Here’s a breakdown of the top 50 biggest emitters in the world in 2020 versus 1900. All figures are in units of 100 million tons, and are rounded for simplicity.
|Rank||Country||1900 Emissions||Country||2020 Emissions|
The data also highlights the shift in the global economy between developed and developing economies.
In the 1900s, the largest emitters were the U.S. and other industrialized nations. In the later data set, developing economies like India, Brazil, and Indonesia have moved up the list as more significant carbon emitters as well.
The accounting for carbon emissions can change with international trade, depending on how emissions are counted and attributed.
Should emissions generated from a manufactured good be assigned to the country where the good was made, or to the place where the good was ultimately consumed? Adjusting emissions based on imports and exports can help us look at these differences.
Richer economies that import lots of goods, like the U.S., UK, or Germany tend to have higher consumption-based emissions.
Meanwhile, for high-growth countries like China, India, Iran, and South Africa, the inverse is true: their production-based emissions are higher than their consumption-based emissions.
Cumulative Carbon Emissions
When taking into account emissions from the Industrial Revolution to 2020, nearly every continent has contributed large amounts of carbon emissions—but key leaders emerge.
Here is the full breakdown:
According to the UN, the world will need to cut emissions by 32 Gt more than what countries have already promised in order to achieve the 1.5 °C target outlined in the Paris Agreement.
As you can see in this data, how or if this happens will likely be driven largely by the future of our energy sources and consumption.
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