Europe just gained its second and third coal-free countries. Sweden and Austria have both shut their last coal-fired plants in late April, joining Belgium in going coal-free in favor of renewable energy sources.
“With Sweden going coal-free in the same week as Austria, the downward trajectory of coal in Europe is clear,” Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director for Europe Beyond Coal, told PV Magazine. “Against the backdrop of the serious health challenges we are currently facing, leaving coal behind in exchange for renewables is the right decision and will repay us in kind with improved health, climate protection and more resilient economies.”
Sweden had originally planned on going coal-free in 2022, but it was able to achieve this goal two years early. A mild Swedish winter meant that energy utility Stockholm Exergi’s last coal-fired plant, located in Hjorthagen, eastern Stockholm, didn’t need to be used this year. The plant opened in 1989.
In addition to environmental awareness that decreased the popularity of coal, market forces have driven the operational costs up. Statistics from the U.K.-based think-tank Carbon Tracker show that 40% of EU coal plants ran at a loss in 2017. In 2019, it cost almost 100% more to run a coal plant than to rely on renewable options.
More European countries plan to join the coal-free future: France is aiming to be coal-free by 2022; Slovakia and Portugal by 2023; the U.K. by 2024; and Ireland and Italy by 2025.
Stockholm Exergi CEO Anders Egelrud told PV Magazine he hopes the utility will eventually go carbon-negative. “Today we know that we must stop using all fossil fuels, therefore the coal needs to be phased out and we do so several years before the original plan,” Egelrud said, according to TheMayor.eu. “Since Stockholm was almost totally fossil-dependent 30-40 years ago, we have made enormous changes and now we are taking the step away from carbon dependence and continuing the journey towards an energy system entirely based on renewable and recycled energy.”
Image via Steve Buissinne