The share of electricity generated by different energy sources has changed significantly in Europe over the last two decades.
The major story here is the decline in consumption of fossil fuels. More specifically, the combined share of petroleum products and solid fuels (meaning coal or shale oil) has fallen from 65.1% of total consumption in 1990 to 50.6% by 2013.
Renewables have steadily increased in consumption since the mid-2000s, and as a result the amount of electricity driven by renewables was 2.8x higher in 2013 (11.8%) than it was in 1990 (4.3%). The energy source that has seen the least fluctuations in usage is nuclear energy. Producing a peak of 14.5% of electricity in 2002, nuclear energy usage has recently dropped back to 13.6% in 2013.
Consumption of gas is also an interesting story. Natural gas has been used more prominently in recent years as it became regarded as more environmentally friendly than other fossil alternatives. However, as Europe has tried to reduce dependence on Russian gas, consumption has started to wane since 2010.
Here’s how specific countries look in terms of their electricity consumption per capita:
This creates some more granular stories that are worth delving into.
Estonia is the country that relies the most on solid fuels, with 86.6% of its energy needs met this fuel type. Interestingly, coal is not the solid fuel that is powering most of the country – that accolade goes to Estonia’s highly-developed and strategic shale oil resource. In this case, shale oil counts as a “solid fuel”, as it is essentially sedimentary rocks with oil trapped in them. Estonia actually has the two largest shale oil power plants in the world, and the industry employs 6,500 people in the country.
Malta and Cyprus rely heavily on petroleum products, which account for 98.3% and 92.4% of consumption respectively. This makes sense, as these small island nations do not have the populations or resources to warrant big infrastructure spending on things like nuclear power plants. They simply import what they need, which allows them flexibility.
France is the biggest user of nuclear power, with 74% of consumption coming from that source. Belgium, Hungary, and Slovakia have more than half of their power coming from nuclear.
Austria uses the most renewable energy with 80%. That said, the vast majority of this comes from hydro, where Austria uses its mountainous terrain to its advantage.
Want to dive more into the data? Here it is in its full glory:
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
What are the safest energy sources? This graphic shows both GHG emissions and accidental deaths caused by different energy sources.
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
Recent conversations about climate change, emissions, and health have put a spotlight on the world’s energy sources.
As of 2021, nearly 90% of global CO₂ emissions came from fossil fuels. But energy production doesn’t just lead to carbon emissions, it can also cause accidents and air pollution that has a significant toll on human life.
This graphic by Ruben Mathisen uses data from Our World in Data to help visualize exactly how safe or deadly these energy sources are.
Fossil Fuels are the Highest Emitters
All energy sources today produce greenhouse gases either directly or indirectly. However, the top three GHG-emitting energy sources are all fossil fuels.
|Energy||GHG Emissions (CO₂e/gigawatt-hour)|
|Natural Gas||490 tonnes|
Coal produces 820 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) per gigawatt-hour. Not far behind is oil, which produces 720 tonnes CO₂e per gigawatt-hour. Meanwhile, natural gas produces 490 tonnes of CO₂e per gigawatt-hour.
These three sources contribute to over 60% of the world’s energy production.
Generating energy at a massive scale can have other side effects, like air pollution or accidents that take human lives.
|Energy Sources||Death rate (deaths/terawatt-hour)|
According to Our World in Data, air pollution and accidents from mining and burning coal fuels account for around 25 deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity—roughly the amount consumed by about 150,000 EU citizens in one year. The same measurement sees oil responsible for 18 annual deaths, and natural gas causing three annual deaths.
Meanwhile, hydropower, which is the most widely used renewable energy source, causes one annual death per 150,000 people. The safest energy sources by far are wind, solar, and nuclear energy at fewer than 0.1 annual deaths per terawatt-hour.
Nuclear energy, because of the sheer volume of electricity generated and low amount of associated deaths, is one of the world’s safest energy sources, despite common perceptions.
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