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EU already reaping environmental benefits from renewables shift

The increased use of renewable electricity across the EU has reduced environmental pressures linked to climate change and lowered the risk of air and water pollution, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has said.

In 2019, renewable energy represented 19.7 per cent of energy consumed in the EU27: less than half a per cent short of the 2020 target of 20 per cent.

Renewable electricity generation within the EU has almost doubled since 2005, and coal is no longer the biggest supplier of energy.

The EEA said that the EU’s electricity sector is responsible for almost a quarter of all EU greenhouse gas emissions and it remains an important source of “acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone formation”. Soil acidification and eutrophication is a process in which freshwater becomes overloaded with nutrients, causing algal blooms and low oxygen levels.

“By substituting more polluting fossil fuels, expanding renewable electricity generation across the EU provides multiple opportunities to improve human health and the environment while mitigating climate change,” the EEA said.

Renewable energy sources are not entirely without their own environmental impacts. Producing power by incinerating waste can affect freshwater ecotoxicity, while biomass energy is associated with intensified land occupation and the formation of particulate matter. However, the EEA stated that renewables are far less damaging compared to fossil fuels.

It also said that meeting EU emissions-cutting goals will require an even faster expansion of renewable sources, requiring a power sector based 70 per cent on renewables by 2030.

The UK has also been making progress on transitioning to a lower carbon electricity sector. Last year, the National Grid claimed that for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, more of Britain’s electricity production came from zero-carbon energy sources than from fossil fuels.

One UK electricity supplier, Octopus Energy, recently launched a new tariff that incentivises its customers to put their cars on to charge, or switch on their washing machines, during times of high winds. It announced the new tariff as it bought its first two wind turbines, taking the step into energy production, as well as supply, for the first time. During winds of more than eight or 10.8 metres per second, depending on location, customers close to one of the two wind turbines will get a 50 per cent discount for each kilowatt hour they use.

 

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