Renewable energy generation exceeds fossil energy for the first time in Europe after the hottest summer last year

Renewable energy generation exceeds fossil energy for the first time in Europe after the hottest summer last year

Climate change is taking a major economic and environmental toll in Europe, the fastest-warming continent on the planet.

In 2022, Europe will be characterized by extreme heat, drought and wildfires, according to the State of the Climate in Europe 2022 report (the report), produced jointly by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Sea surface temperatures will reach new highs everywhere, accompanied by oceanic heat waves, and glacial melting will be unprecedented.

The report shows that Europe has warmed twice as much as the global average since the 1980s, with far-reaching effects on the region’s socio-economic structure and ecosystems. 2022 is about 2.3°C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) average, which is commonly used as the baseline for the Paris Agreement.

However, the report also shows that in 2022, for the first time, renewable energy sources will generate more electricity in Europe than fossil fuels: wind and solar power will generate 22.3% of the EU’s electricity, more than fossil fuels (20%).

Source: State of the Climate in Europe 2022 report

Increased heat stress due to extreme weather

This report focuses specifically on energy issues and highlights how more extreme weather, including intense heat, heavy precipitation and drought, is having an increasing impact on the supply, demand and infrastructure of Europe’s energy system.

“The record-breaking heat stress experienced by Europeans in 2022 is one of the main drivers of excess weather-related deaths in Europe. Unfortunately, this cannot be considered a one-off event or a climate oddity. “Our current understanding of the climate system and its evolution tells us that this type of event is part of a pattern that will lead to more frequent and more intense heat stress extremes across the region,” said Dr. Carlo Buontempo, director of the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service.

According to information from the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), meteorological, hydrological and climate-related hazards in Europe in 2022 result in 16,365 deaths and directly affect 156,000 people.

Of these events, about 67 percent are related to floods and storms, accounting for the majority of the total economic losses, about $2 billion. In terms of mortality, a more serious cause was heat waves, which reportedly caused more than 16,000 deaths.

Source: State of the Climate in Europe 2022 report

“In 2022, many countries in Western and Southwestern Europe experienced the warmest year on record.” WMO Secretary General Taras said, “The summer was the hottest year on record: high temperatures exacerbated severe and widespread drought conditions, fueled fierce wildfires, led to the second-largest area burned on record, and resulted in thousands of excessive heat-related deaths.”

According to another study by the European Commission’s Copernicus Centre for Climate Change Services, Europeans, especially those in the southern part of the continent, suffer more heat stress during the summer months as climate change leads to longer periods of extreme weather.

The study showed that “southern Europe experienced a record number of ‘very intense heat stress’ days,” which means temperatures of 38 to 46 degrees Celsius.

In fact, the number of “intense” (32 to 38 degrees Celsius) or “very intense” heat stress days in summer is increasing across the continent, while in southern Europe, “extreme heat stress” days above 46 degrees Celsius are also increasing. The number of days of “extreme heat stress” above 46°C is also increasing in southern Europe. The ensuing heat stress can lead to a range of health problems, including rashes, dehydration and heat stroke.

In 2022, Europe saw its warmest summer on record. Several countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, saw their warmest year on record.

The annual average temperature in Europe in 2022 is between the second and fourth highest on record, with an anomaly about 0.79°C higher than the 1991-2020 average.

Precipitation in 2022 is below average over most of Europe. For example, this is the fourth consecutive dry year in the Iberian Peninsula and the third consecutive dry year in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Of these, France had the driest January to September and the UK and Belgium’s Uccles had the driest January to August since 1976, with far-reaching effects on agriculture and energy production. Spain’s water reserves were reduced to 41.9% of total capacity by July 26, with some basins at even lower capacity.

Meanwhile, from 1997 to 2022, Europe’s glaciers lost about 880 kilometers of ice volume. The Alps are the most affected, with an average reduction in ice thickness of 34 m. In 2022, glaciers in the European Alps experience a new record mass loss in one year, caused by very low winter snowfall, very warm summers and dust deposition from the Sahara.

Average sea surface temperatures across the North Atlantic region were the hottest on record, and much of the region’s ocean was affected by intense, even severe, extreme ocean heat waves.

The rate of ocean surface warming, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean, the Baltic and Black Seas and the southern Arctic, is more than three times the global average.

The report shows that ocean heat waves have led to the migration and mass extinction of species, the arrival of invasive species, and the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Renewable energy makes a push

The EU has pledged to increase renewable energy production to at least 42.5% of total consumption by 2030 – almost twice as much as in 2019.

In 2022, wind and solar power will account for 22.3 percent of EU electricity in Europe, surpassing fossil fuels (20 percent) and coal (16 percent) for the first time, in part due to a significant increase in solar power production.

In addition, annual surface solar radiation in 2022 is the highest since records began in 1983 and is 4.9 percent higher than the 1991-2020 average.

This underscores the importance of meteorological variables such as surface solar radiation needed for photovoltaics, wind speed for wind power, and precipitation and runoff for hydropower, the report said.

In general, more surface solar radiation is available in southern Europe due to the angle of the sun and reduced cloud cover. The potential for wind power is higher over the oceans, particularly along the Irish and Portuguese coasts and in the Aegean Sea. Hydroelectric power is directly related to the topography of Europe.

The meteorological factors driving renewable energy potential have a large seasonal variation. Monthly averages of wind speed can vary from -40% to +80% of the average, precipitation is ±30% and surface solar radiation is about ±15%.

In simple terms, the sun and wind tend to complement each other throughout the year: solar radiation is higher in the summer half of the year, while wind intensity is usually greater in the winter.

The report concludes that surface solar radiation has increased over the 30-year period 1991-2020, while wind speed and precipitation show no clear trend.

The report also cautions that globally, disruptions to nuclear power operations due to severe weather conditions have increased over the past three decades, although they still represent a small share of total nuclear power disruptions.

In 2021, weather-related production losses will account for about 0.33 percent of global nuclear power generation. Low river flows, rising temperatures and extreme heat are the main factors.

The report says that in a long-term deteriorating climate scenario, Southern Europe could see some of the largest global temperature extremes above 40°C and an increase in the percentage of consecutive dry days. This outcome, especially for potential nuclear plant sites in Southern Europe, would necessitate adaptation provisions associated with stringent safety revisions if it is decided that nuclear plants should continue to operate.

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