EU coal exit postponed in face of energy crisis

EU countries have long worked to shift away from coal, with climate change policies as their primary focus, but since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, they have been forced to reconsider coal power due to the disruption of the affordable natural gas supply from Russia.

The energy crisis also led to a downshift in environmentalist pressure against coal use in European countries.

Global coal consumption climbed 1.2% in 2022 compared to the previous year, while the growth in the EU reached 6.5%, according to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) annual Coal 2022 study.

The amount of coal consumed by the bloc rose from 449 million tons in 2021 to 478 million tons in 2022 due to rising demand for coal in electricity production.

Overall coal production of the EU members moved up from 332 million tons in 2021 to 357 million tons in 2022, a 7.3% jump.

Over the past 30 years, the share of coal-fired power plants, which in 1990 provided 40% of the EU's electricity, has fallen. In 2020, just 13% of the bloc’s energy was produced using coal.

By 2021, around half of Europe’s 324 coal-fueled power plants had either closed or announced a retirement date before 2030.

Bruegel data shows that electricity generated by coal-fired power plants in the EU and UK declined by more than 40% between 2015 and 2020.

But the use of coal in power production is predicted to reach 20% in 2022 due to the rising demand for coal brought on by the energy crisis.

Some EU countries have stepped up efforts in coal and mining to find a remedy to this crisis.

Production from already existing coal mines has been increased, while some countries including the UK and Poland have also started new coal mine projects.

Countries including Germany, France, the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, and Austria have taken steps to extend the life of coal-fired power plants, re-commissioning power plants that were once shut down, and boosting current production.


Germany had previously announced a plan to shut down coal-fired power plants in 2038, but in 2021 the nation made agreements with several power plant operators to bring this deadline forward to 2030.

Bringing the target date for the end of coal use from 2038 to 2030 was among the key 2021 election pledges of the German coalition government.

Following the energy crisis in Europe brought on by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Germany decided to reignite its domestic coal industry while searching for alternate energy sources since it was unable to get natural gas from Russia.

The government opted to keep using coal power plants to lessen its reliance on Russia following the war even if it had previously pledged to stop using them.

It took measures to extend the life of several coal-fired power facilities by reconnecting them to the grid.

The government decided to keep coal power facilities with a production capacity of over 6 gigawatt-hours as emergency reserves.

German energy company RWE announced that it would reopen three lignite facilities in Neurath and NiederauBem.


France ordered its primary electricity generation and distribution company GazelEnerji to put a coal power plant in Moselle back into service.

The power plant with a total electricity generation capacity of 600 megawatt-hours will continue to operate for some time due to the energy crisis.


The Italian government postponed the shutdown of six coal power plants that were scheduled to be disabled in 2025 and decided to restore a previously terminated facility to be temporarily used in case of an emergency.


In Spain, energy firm Endesa has been asked to reschedule the shutdown of its As Pontes coal plant.


The European energy crisis has also changed the approach towards coal investments in the UK, where these projects had been put on hold due to opposition from environmentalists.

The country has extended the life span of some coal power plants. To prolong the operational life of 2 different coal power plants, contracts were struck with the firms Drax and EDF.

The government and Uniper also came to an arrangement to keep the Ratcliffe coal plant operating, a plant previously agreed to terminate in 2022.

Also, the UK approved a new coal mining proposal for the first time in 30 years. The mine in the northwestern Cumbria area will be used for steel production, not power.


Despite efforts to switch to sustainable energy, Poland, one of the EU's top coal producers and consumers, boosted its coal consumption during the Russia-Ukraine war.

It halted natural gas and coal purchases from Russia but increased its coal imports from Colombia, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Australia, and Indonesia.

The government temporarily shelved its earlier ruling to ban lignite use for residential heating and decided to boost its coal production.


In Austria, the government asked the company Verbund to keep a coal plant which had stopped operating in 2020 ready for use again in case of supply bottlenecks or a complete supply disruption.


The government put off the scheduled closure dates of three power plants, including two coal-fired, in order to temporarily help ensure the stability of the nation's electrical supply.


Athens decided to boost the production of lignite by 50%. Seven coal power units will remain active longer than expected due to the energy crisis.


The government abandoned its commitment to phase out coal by 2025. It also decided to restore lignite-fuelled units of the Matra power plant.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands lifted the production cap on coal power plants, which in the past had to operate at less than 35% capacity. The plants are instead allowed to produce at full capacity.


Romania reversed a previous decision to totally phase out coal and postponed the closing of the coal-fired power facilities in Rovinari and Turceni, which were scheduled to shut down by the end of 2022.

Source: Anadolu Agency