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Key electricity trends 2020

Annual trends from OECD countries

In 2020, the global electricity sector was greatly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. Electricity demand and production decreased significantly as countries across the OECD implemented lockdown measures. On a monthly scale, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on electricity production is mostly visible in April and May 2020. In April 2020, total net electricity production was 747.2 TWh, the lowest recorded since January 2010. 


Shares of electricity production by source in OECD countries, 2020

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Total renewable production continued to grow in 2020, following the increasing trend observed over the past decade. Renewable production was 3,269. TWh in 2020, amounting for 31.6% of total production in the OECD. In OECD Europe, renewable electricity production was higher than fossil fuel power production for the second consecutive year, illustrating the dynamic growth of the renewable energy sector in Europe as well as the decreasing share of coal in the electricity mix.

In the OECD, coal use for electricity generation continued decreasing and produced 1,983.3 TWh in 2020, 15.5% lower than in 2019, however the share of power from natural gas continued increasing in 2020, comprising 29.5% of production with a total output of 3,048.3 TWh. 

Electricity production variation by aggregate in OECD countries, 2020

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In the OECD, total renewable production was 3,269.1 TWh in 2020, up by 7.5% or 228.8 TWh compared to 2019. This increase was driven by wind production at 922.4 TWh in 2020, 11.6% or 95.8 TWh higher than in 2019. Solar production was 433.9 TWh, up by 20.2% or 73.0 TWh. Hydro production was 1,556.9 TWh, 3.5% or 52.3 TWh higher than in 2019. In OECD Europe, renewable power production was higher than fossil fuel production for the second consecutive year. This highlights the rapid development of the renewable power sector throughout Europe, especially wind and solar, combined with favourable weather conditions. In 2020, there were many windstorms in the first quarter and in the last four months of the year, meaning strong winds and heavy rainfall.

Other renewable energy sources1 produced 355.8 TWh of electricity in 2020, 2.2% or 7.8 TWh higher than in 2019. This increase was driven by combustible renewable fuels2, up by 7.7 TWh or 2.6% in 2020 compared to 2019. The largest increase was in OECD Asia Oceania, where combustible renewable fuels was 38.5 TWh in 2020, 7.9 TWh or 25.6% higher than in 2019.

Evolution of renewable compared to fossil fuel production in OECD Europe, 2010-2020

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In the OECD, hydro production was 1,556.9 TWh in 2020, up by 52.3 TWh or 3.5% compared to 2019. Hydropower produced 15.0% of total electricity in 2020. The largest increase in hydro production was in OECD Europe, where hydropower output was 621.3 TWh in 2020, 5.3% or 31.1 TWh higher than in 2019. Due to heavy rainfall, production was especially high in the first half of 2020, at 327.1 TWh, up by 20.7 TWh or 6.8% compared to the same period in 2019. In OECD Americas, hydropower production was 800.0 TWh in 2020, up by 1.9% or 15.1 TWh compared to 2019. In OECD Asia Oceania, hydro production was 135.7 TWh, 6.0 TWh or 4.6% higher than in 2019.

In Norway, precipitation levels in 2020 were higher than average. January 2020 was a historically wet month. As a result, hydropower production was generally higher than average throughout the year, with a total output of 141.7 TWh, up by 12.1% or 15.8 TWh compared to 2019. In Turkey on the other hand, the year 2020 was the driest of the past five years. In the second half of the year, rainfall was below seasonal averages. Hydropower output was 77.4 TWh in 2020, 12.3% or 10.8 TWh lower than in 2019. This was the largest decrease in hydro production in any OECD country in 2020 compared to 2019, contrasting with 2019 where hydro production in Turkey had increased the most in the OECD, by 51.0% or 29.8 TWh compared to 2018.

In South America, a severe drought was observed for the second consecutive year, which was noticeable in reduced hydro production in Colombia. In 2020, hydropower was responsible for 67.0% of total electricity production, down from 72.0% in 2019 and from 75.9% in 2018. Hydro production was 49.5 TWh in 2020, 8.0% lower than in 2019. In the first half of the year, production was lower than average, at 21.5 TWh down by 18.1% or 4.8 TWh compared to the same period in 2019. In Chile, the impacts of the drought were visible for the second consecutive year, especially in the first half of 2020. Total hydro production was 20.3 TWh, 0.4% or 86 GWh lower than in 2019. In the second quarter of 2020, hydro production was the lowest recorded, at 3.3 TWh, 1.0 TWh or 23.8% lower than during the same period in 2019. 


Yearly solar production in OECD countries, 2010-2020

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In 2020, solar power production in the OECD was 433.9 TWh, up by 20.2% or 72.5 TWh compared to 2019. Solar production increased in almost all OECD countries in 2020 compared to 2019. The increase was mainly driven by higher production in the United States. Solar power output was 118.8 TWh in the United States, 23.3% or 22.5 TWh higher than in 2019. In 2020, almost 20 GW of solar PV capacity was added to reach nearly 100 GW of total installed capacity. Solar capacity will continue to increase in the United States and is estimated to quadruple the current amount of solar capacity in the next 10 years.

The second largest increase in solar production in absolute value was in Japan. Solar power output was 81.9 TWh in 2020, 10.4 TWh or 14.6% higher than in 2019. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan invested in renewable capacity, especially in solar. Since 2013, the solar sector has developed rapidly with an average annual increase in capacity of over 8 GW, making Japan the second largest solar power producer in the OECD since 2016. Australia has also strongly invested in the solar sector over the last decade. In 2020, solar production was 22.2 TWh, up by 23.5% or 4.2 TWh compared to 2019. This continues the dynamic growth seen in 2019, with a total production of 18.0 TWh, 50.3% higher than in 2018. Rooftop solar is growing the fastest in Australia, with an additional capacity 2.6 GW, 18% higher than in 2019. Australia is projected to deploy an additional 24 GW of rooftop solar capacity, tripling small-scale solar capacity over the decade. 


Yearly wind production in OECD countries, 2010-2020

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Wind production increased in most OECD countries in 2020 compared to 2019. The increase was mainly driven by the United States where wind power output was 331.3 TWh, up by 36.3 TWh or 12.3% compared to 2019. Wind power in the United States represented 35.9% of total OECD wind production and has increased year-on-year for over a decade. In 2020, the United States installed more wind capacity than ever before, adding 14 GW to reach a total wind capacity of almost 120 GW. The share of wind power is set to increase again in 2021 as a lot of this capacity was connected towards the end of the year.

In OECD Europe, wind production was 491.2 TWh in 2020, 47.2 TWh or 10.6% higher than in 2019. Wind production was historically high in the first half of 2020, at 260.0 TWh, 33.2 TWh or 14.7% higher than in the same period in 2019. There were eleven windstorms in the first quarter of 2020 therefore renewable weather conditions were more favourable. Wind production was the highest ever recorded in February 2020, at 62.3 TWh. In the first half of 2020, countries across Europe implemented lockdown measures in response to Covid-19. Electricity demand immediately decreased as public and industrial sites closed. As wind power production was very high during this period, demand for dispatchable electricity sources decreased. Coal, natural gas and nuclear productions were lower than average. In April-May 2020, for the first time on record, total renewable production was higher in OECD Europe than non-renewable production. During the two months, renewable production was 250.7 TWh, compared to 246.1 TWh of non-renewable production. This record was achieved because of higher wind production in Europe.

The increase in wind generation in Europe was mainly driven by the United Kingdom. Wind power output was 75.8 TWh in 2020, up by 17.8% or 11.4 TWh compared to 2019. In the first semester of 2020, wind production reached 40.1 TWh, up by 30.4% or 9.3 TWh compared to the same period in 2019. Wind power was responsible for 27.0% of total electricity production in the first half of 2020, up from 19.1% in the same period in 2019. This increase in production was due also to the rapid development of the wind power industry in the country, by the end of 2020 total installed wind capacity was over 24 GW, with almost 14 GW of onshore wind capacity and 10 GW of offshore capacity. The United Kingdom plans to reach 40 GW of installed offshore capacity by 2030, increasing the stable supply of wind power in the next few years.


In 2020, power production from combustible fuels was 5,568.8 TWh in the OECD, down by 6.6% or 390.6 TWh compared to 2019. This decrease was mainly driven by lower coal production. In 2020, coal power output was 1,983.3 TWh, down by 15.5% or 364.3 TWh compared to 2019. Since 2019, the decrease in coal production has accelerated, dropping by over 350 TWh for two consecutive years. In 2020, coal was responsible for less than 2,000 TWh of electricity for the first time in the OECD.

Natural gas power output was 3,048.3 TWh in the OECD in 2020, 21.3 TWh or 0.8% lower than in 2019. This slight decrease is a consequence of warmer than average year, high renewable power output and the Covid-19 pandemic. Natural gas continued to be the main single source of power production with a share of 29.5% of the total OECD electricity mix.

Production from other fuels3 was 270.5 TWh in 2020, 1.8% or 5.0 TWh lower than in 2019. Oil production in the OECD was 164.6 TWh in 2020, 21.3 TWh or 11.5% lower than in 2019, in line with the decreasing trend observed since 2013. Oil power produced 1.6% of total electricity in 2020.

Year-on-year change in fossil fuel production in OECD countries, 2019-2020

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Overall, coal production decreased in all OECD regions in 2020 compared to 2019. In OECD Americas, coal power output was 902.0 TWh in 2020, 19.3% or 216.2 TWh lower than in 2019. Natural gas production in OECD Americas was 1,851.7 TWh in 2020, up by 1.4% or 25.2 TWh compared to 2019. In the rest of the OECD, natural gas production decreased in 2020 compared to 2019, by 96.7 TWh down to 677.1 TWh in OECD Europe and by 21.7 TWh to 519.4 TWh in OECD Asia Oceania. Coal power production was 640.2 TWh in OECD Asia Oceania, down by 7.4% or 51.4 TWh compared to 2019.


Yearly coal and natural gas production in OECD countries, 2020

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The decrease in coal power output in OECD Americas was the sharpest annual decrease in absolute values recorded and was driven by lower coal power production in the United States. In the United States, coal power production 811.3 TWh in 2020, down by 200.3 TWh or 19.8% compared to 2019. This decrease follows a general trend observed since 2010, marking the first year with a total production below 1,000 TWh. From 2011 to 2019, 121 coal-fired plants switched from coal to other types of fuels and 103 were converted to or replaced by natural gas-fired plants. On top of fuel switching, coal-fired power plants are retired and not repurposed. By the end of 2019, around 50 GW of coal-fired capacity had been retired, with a record of 11 GW in 2019 alone. This strategy to retire or repurpose coal power plants is driven mainly by stricter emission standards and low natural gas prices that make coal-fired power generation less competitive. In July and August 2020, there was a heat wave in most of the country and coal and natural gas production increased to meet higher electricity demand. Coal and natural gas are dispatchable power sources meaning that the power output can be adjusted on demand according to market needs. Therefore, although annual coal power is decreasing in the United States, coal will remain an important source in the fuel mix in the near future even as natural gas is becoming prominent in the fuel mix. In 2020, natural gas production was 1,585.3 TWh in 2020, up by 2.2% or 34.5 TWh. Natural gas was responsible for 38.9% of total electricity production in 2020, up from 23.1% in 2010. On the other hand, coal was responsible for 19.9% of total production, down from 45.2% in 2010.

The largest decrease in coal power production in OECD Europe in 2020 was in Germany. Coal production was 132.5 TWh in 2020, down by 36.5 TWh or 21.6% compared to 2019. In 2019, coal production also dropped significantly by 23.8% or 52.9 TWh. The continued sharp decline in 2020 highlights the beginning of Germany’s strategy to phase out coal from the electricity mix by 2038. The Coal Phase-out Act was adopted in 2020 and plant decommissioning started in 2020 in an effort to reduce hard coal and brown coal power capacity by 30 GW by 2022. The year 2020 showed very favourable weather conditions for renewables energy sources. During the first semester of 2020, wind power production reached new records. High non-dispatchable wind production and generally lower demand pushed coal production down in the first semester of 2020. Coal power production was 54.5 TWh in the first half of 2020, 38.6% or 34.2 TWh lower than in the first half of 2019. This decreased accounted for 46.1% of the decrease in OECD Europe in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period last year. Coal power output in Germany more than halved in April-May 2020, 52.3% lower than in the same period in 2019. During April-May 2020, Poland became the leading coal power producer in OECD Europe, overtaking Germany for the first time on record. In the second half of 2020, coal production increased to compensate the seasonal decrease in wind production. As lockdown measures eased, electricity demand increased. When renewable production decreased in the summer following seasonal trends, demand for dispatchable power rose. In the summer of 2020, extremely low gas prices made power production from natural gas more profitable than from coal. As a result, most of the demand was covered by natural gas production, which reached seasonal records in June and July 2020. This trend was observed in the summer of 2019 as well, where natural gas production was scaled up and replaced coal production.

In Turkey, coal power production was increasing since 2010 whereas natural gas production decreased on average in the second half of the decade. The aim of this strategy was to rely more on domestic lignite and less on imports of hard coal and natural gas. In 2019, natural gas production was historically low, at 53.3 TWh while coal production was high, at 105.1 TWh. In 2020, natural gas production was lower in the first half of the year, especially during April-May 2020 because of lockdown measures when production almost halved compared to the same period in 2019. In the second half of the year, natural gas production increased by 44.0% to reach 45.7 TWh. The year 2020 was very dry and there was little rainfall in the second part of the year, which affected hydro production greatly. The increase in production from natural gas compensated for the drop in hydro production.


In OECD Europe, coal power output was 441.1 TWh in 2020, down by 96.7 TWh or 18.0% compared to 2019, following a clear downwards trend in a context of decarbonising the power sector to achieve the Paris Agreement goals. The falling cost of renewables and the rising cost of CO2 on the European market is a good incentive to decrease coal-fired generation. In the first half of 2020, many countries implemented lockdown measures in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The combination of these reasons pushed demand for coal-powered electricity down. During the first half of 2020, coal production was 200.3 TWh, down by 27.0% compared to the first semester of 2019.

In Portugal, coal production stopped altogether in April 2020 after decreasing during the second semester of 2019. In May 2020, coal production was 17.9 GWh, 95.0% lower than in May 2019. Coal is becoming less profitable with rising costs of CO2 emissions and the more competitive prices of natural gas and renewables. This coupled with the lower demand in the second quarter of 2020 has led Portugal to bringing forward its coal phase-out plan from 2023 to 2021. In May 2020, after lockdown softening, coal production resumed in the Sines coal power plant, the largest thermoelectric power plant in Portugal, after being offline for 100 days. In line with the phase-out plan, the plant continued burning its coal stocks before it was decommissioned in January 2021. In Sweden, the last single-fired coal power plant was shut down two years ahead of schedule as well, after a very mild winter. The last single-fired coal power plant in Austria also closed in 2020, illustrating the acceleration of coal phase-out strategies across Europe. Although all single-fired coal power plants are offline in these countries, small amounts of coal may still be used in auto-production in conjunction with other fuels.

In the first half of 2020, coal production was lower in all OECD Europe countries except the United Kingdom. Coal power production in the United Kingdom increased by 4.5% compared to the first semester of 2019 to reach 3.9 TWh. Interestingly, coal power plants were shut down for almost 68 days up until 16 June 2020, to match lower demand levels and as part of the coal phase-out plan adopted by the country. The increase in production was seen in the first quarter of 2020; coal output was 3.5 TWh, up by 7.7% compared to the same period in 2019. This was largely attributed to the Fiddler's Ferry site burning its remaining coal prior to its closure on the 31st March 2020.  During the second quarter, production fell to 394.4 GWh, the lowest quarterly production level on record. In 2020, coal power production was 5.8 TWh in the United Kingdom, 20.7% or 1.5 TWh lower than in 2019, and was responsible for 2.0% of total electricity production. This highlights the rapid decrease of coal power production in the country, as coal was responsible for 31.4% on average in the first half of the past decade, and is on track to remove coal from the electricity mix by 2025. Natural gas production was 106.4 TWh in 2020, down by 15.1% or 19.0 TWh compared to 2019. This represents the largest decrease in TWh terms in natural gas production in the OECD. Production decreased in the United Kingdom for two reasons. Firstly, there were very favourable renewable conditions in 2020. Renewable energy sources produced 45.2% of total electricity in 2020. Secondly, electricity demand was lower because of the economic slow-down. As natural gas is a dispatchable energy source, the power plant output adjusted to lower demand and high renewable production and annual production was lower in 2020 compared to 2019.

In Korea, coal power plants temporarily shut down or power output was capped at 80% in an effort to curb air pollution. This strategy was implemented seasonally over the past three years. In the spring of 2020, almost half of the coal power plants shut down to reduce air pollution. This was made possible by lower demand in the country in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, coal power production decreased significantly in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020, coal power output was 207.0 TWh, 13.6% or 32.5 TWh lower than in 2019. The share of coal in the electricity mix was 37.1% in 2020, down from 42.5% in 2019 and below 40% for the first time in a decade.


Evolution of annual nuclear production in OECD regions, 2018-2019 compared to 2019-2020

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In 2020, nuclear production was 1,777.4 TWh, 6.4% or 121.1 TWh lower than in 2019. Nuclear power output decreased across the OECD but the sharpest decrease recorded was in OECD Europe. Nuclear production was 690.5 TWh in 2020, down by 11.3% or 88.1 TWh compared to 2019. This decrease in production is a direct consequence of the Covid-19 crisis and warmer than average temperatures. In other OECD regions, nuclear power output decreased in 2020 compared to 2019 as well, by 22.1 TWh or 2.4% in OECD Americas and by 10.4 TWh or 5.1% in OECD Asia Oceania.

On average, nuclear production in France represents almost half of OECD Europe’s total nuclear production. In 2020, the nuclear power sector was greatly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, driving total European nuclear production down compared to 2019. Nuclear production has been lower than average in France since August 2019 because of scheduled maintenance or periodic safety reviews. From mid-March to mid-May 2020, strict lockdown was observed in France. As a result, nuclear outages were extended throughout the summer of 2020 in an effort to preserve fuel and to adapt to lower demand on a national scale and from neighbouring countries. In the summer and autumn of 2020, nuclear reactors were kept offline for maintenance longer than average in order to save fuel on these power plants in an effort to provide a continuous supply of power in the winter of 2020-2021. As a result, nuclear power output was historically low in 2020, at 335.4 TWh, down by 44.0 TWh or 11.6% compared to 2019. Nuclear power plants produced 65.7% of the total electricity output in 2020, which was the lowest share recorded in over ten years. Production levels started increasing in the third quarter as confinement measured eased and nuclear production was in the seasonal range in the fourth quarter of 2020.

The second largest decrease in nuclear production in Europe was in Sweden. In 2020, nuclear production 47.3 TWh, down by 17.1 TWh or 26.5% compared to 2019. In late December 2019, a reactor on the Ringhals power plant shut down as scheduled. In the first quarter of 2020, renewable production was historically high as wind conditions were very favourable. On top of that, temperatures were higher than average. This drove electricity prices down as well as demand for dispatchable electricity production. In this context and as demand lowered due to the Covid-19 crisis, two reactors were taken offline in the spring of 2020, pushing nuclear production down. By the end of 2020, another reactor at the Ringhals power plant was decommissioned. In 2021, there will be six nuclear reactors in operation in Sweden and with rising temperatures, nuclear power output is estimated to stay lower than average.

In Japan, nuclear production was 40.8 TWh in 2020, 24.0 TWh lower than in 2019. Nuclear production stopped altogether in Japan in 2014. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan announced the nuclear power phase-out by 2040. In 2015, reactors restarted to ensure supply stability and nuclear production started increasing gradually. In 2019, nine reactors from five power plants were producing electricity. By the end of 2020, only one reactor remained online because of regular inspections. Nuclear power output was impacted and in the second half of 2020, was at 13.1 TWh, 54.9% or 16.0 TWh lower than in the second half of 2019. Nuclear production is expected to grow in the next years, to provide 20% of total electricity by 2030 as part of the carbon neutrality by 2050 plan.


Total OECD electricity trade is representative of trade in OECD Europe and OECD Americas since there is no electricity trade in OECD Asia/Oceania. Net exports in OECD Americas were 21.3 TWh, 14.3 TWh higher than in 2020, mainly because of higher exports, which were 92.8 TWh in 2020, up by 14.1% compared to 2019. In OECD Europe, exported electricity in 2020 increased by 2.9% to 414.2 TWh and electricity imports went down by 0.1% to 416.9 TWh. It should be noted that OECD countries within Europe and in Mexico trade electricity with countries outside of the OECD, so imports of the OECD regions do not have to equal exports.

Norway, on the other hand, was a net importer for the first time in 2019 having been a net exporter since 2010, due to significantly lower hydro production. In 2020 on the other hand, hydro production was higher than average. As demand was generally lower in 2020, this higher production created excess electricity and total exports more than doubled in 2020 compared to 2019, with net exports being 20.5 TWh. France remained the top electricity exporter in Europe in 2020, with net exports of 44.6 TWh. Net exports decreased by 22.7% compared to 2019 because of lower nuclear production. Net exports decreased significantly in Germany for the second consecutive year. Net exports were 18.9 TWh down by 42.2% compared to 2019, to compensate a sharp drop in coal production. Finland, the United Kingdom and Italy remained the biggest net importers of electricity, with net imports of respectively, 15.0 TWh, 18.2 TWh and 34.2 TWh. 


All annual comparisons are based on monthly for data in 2020 compared to monthly data for 2019. Israel is not included in this article. The data are the most recent data, and do contain some revisions from that presented in the Monthly Electricity Statistics report issued on 15 March 2021.

Notes and references
  1. Production from combustible renewables, geothermal, tide, wave, ocean and other non-combustible sources.

  2. Production from combustible renewables (such as solid biofuels, biogases, liquid biofuels, municipal renewable waste).

  3. Production from crude oil, natural gas liquids, refinery feedstocks, and petroleum products (such as refinery gases and fuel oil), all other combustible fuels (such as industrial and non-renewable municipal solid waste) and Not elsewhere reported electricity generation.