Key Electricity Trends 2018


17 April 2019

OECD net electricity production grew by 1.9% last year, reaching 10,682 TWh (Photograph: Shutterstock)

For the first time, natural gas overtook coal to become the leading source of electricity in the OECD in 2018, accounting for 27.4% of the mix compared to 25.4% for coal. Meanwhile, the combined contribution of all renewable sources was also responsible for 27.4% of electricity generation, led by hydro (13.8%), then wind (7.0%) and solar (3.0%).

 

The vast majority of the increase in generation from 2017 to 2018 came from the United States. While generation from non-renewable sources is growing strongly in the United States, particularly from natural gas, renewable energy generation is growing quickly in Europe, a reflection of policy efforts to decarbonize its electricity mix. The same is true in OECD Asia Oceania, where non-renewable electricity generation fell by 12.4 TWh, especially in coal and oil, while generation from renewable energy technologies grew considerably (+24.5 TWh).

	Coal	Natural gas	Other combustibles	Nuclear	Hydro	Wind	Solar	Other renewables
OECD Asia Oceania	-16	11	-13	5	5	4	17	-3
OECD Europe	-23	-48	10	3	37	24	13	2
OECD Americas	-65	193	6	4	-16	23	22	-1
OECD Total	-105	156	4	12	26	52	52	-1
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OECD net electricity production grew by 1.9% (+195.2 TWh), reaching 10,682 TWh driven primarily by natural gas, which increased by 156.4 TWh (+5.6%), up to 2,928 TWh. The share of coal continued the decrease that started in 2014, falling to 2,710 TWh. Overall, fossil fuels generated an additional 41.4 TWh compared to 2017.

All sources of renewable generation increased in the OECD during 2018.  The largest increases for renewable technologies were wind (+51.9 TWh, +7.5%) and solar (51.8 TWh, +18.9%). Other renewable sources also increased but by more modest amounts: +25.9 TWh from hydro, +12.0 TWh for combustible renewables and +2.3 TWh from geothermal.

 

Coal

The use of coal for power generation is decreasing in most OECD countries, with a total decrease in the OECD of 104.6 TWh in 2018 compared to 2017 (-3.7%), down to 2,710 TWh.

Large reductions were observed in the United States (-62.5 TWh, -5.0%), Japan (-12.7 TWh, -3.7%), Germany (-11.6 TWh, -5.0%) and the United Kingdom (-5.6 TWh, -25.5%). In contrast, Turkey increased its electricity production from coal by 15.2 TWh (+16.5%) – a switch from gas to coal that goes against the more common trend of coal-to-gas.

Gas

Out of all sources of power generation, natural gas increased the most, up by 156.4 TWh (+5.6%), to 2,928 TWh in 2018 – natural gas is now, for the first time, the leading source of electricity in the OECD. The main source of this growth was the United States, adding 188.9 TWh of additional generation from gas-fueled plants; followed by Korea with +34.3 TWh (+28.7%). However 21 of the 35 OECD countries actually decreased gas consumption for power generation, including Turkey (-17.6 TWh, -16.9%), Australia (-11.1 TWh, -20.2%), and Japan (-10.5 TWh, -2.7%). 

	Coal	Natural gas
2008	3674 	2276 
2009	3338 	2239 
2010	3479 	2413 
2011	3384 	2463 
2012	3238 	2605 
2013	3297 	2469 
2014	3256 	2449 
2015	3028 	2656 
2016	2857 	2803 
2017	2814 	2772 
2018	2710 	2928 
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Nuclear

In 2018, nuclear generation increased by 11.6 TWh in the OECD (+0.6%) compared to 2017, reaching 1,868 TWh. More than two-fifths (43.2%) of all OECD nuclear generation during 2018 was from the United States, with a further one-fifth (20.7%) from France. All other countries generating nuclear power had just single-digit shares.

Growth of nuclear power generation was highest in Japan (+19.7 TWh, +71.0%), which restarted 4 more nuclear plants in 2018; and France (+14.1 TWh, +3.7%), which had higher availability of its nuclear facilities compared to 2017. More modest increases were seen in Switzerland (+5.1 TWh, +26.1%) and Sweden (+2.7 TWh, +4.4%). In Switzerland, one nuclear plant came back online at the beginning of 2018, and the maintenance period of another was shorter than in 2017. In the case of Sweden, nuclear became the top source of electricity in 2018, surpassing hydro, which had been the most important source since 2014.

Conversely, Korea and Belgium saw their nuclear production decrease in 2018. Belgium’s nuclear production fell by a third, compared to the average over the last ten years, as a consequence of a major nuclear outage due to maintenance and safety-related concerns. This situation began in March and reached its most critical point in October, when six of the seven nuclear reactors of the country were off grid. This marked the lowest month of nuclear generation since 2001. In the case of Korea, the decrease in nuclear generation was due to new maintenance regulations. Nuclear generation also decreased in Spain (-2.4 TWh, -4.2%) and the United Kingdom (-4.8 TWh, -7.5%) due to maintenance outages.

	Change
Japan	19.72 
France	14.08 
Switzerland	5.10 
Sweden	2.68 
Mexico	2.61 
USA	1.62 
Czech Republic	1.47 
Finland	0.31 
Germany	0.12 
Netherlands	0.09 
Slovak Republic	0.00 
Hungary	0.00 
Slovenia	0.00 
Canada	-0.69 
Spain	-2.36 
United Kingdom	-4.79 
Belgium	-13.07 
Korea	-14.22 
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Hydro

Hydro generation grew in the OECD during 2018 by 25.9 TWh, or +1.8%.

Southwest Europe went back to usual levels of hydro generation in 2018 after a very dry 2017, which curtailed generation.  Hydro generation in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France rose strongly, with Spain and Portugal almost doubling last year’s hydro production.

The two main hydro generators of the OECD, Canada and USA, saw a decrease in generation: -9.1 TWh (-2.3%) and -10.7 TWh (-3.3%), respectively. In the United States, although 2018 was the wettest year since the early 1980’s, there was a clear difference between the eastern part of the country (significantly above average precipitation) and the western (lower than average precipitation and drought in the south-west). As the majority of US hydro capacity is located in the northwest, electricity output decreased compared to last year. Meteorological events also explain the decline in Canada, with the highest impact in hydro generation seen in Manitoba and British Columbia.

	2016	2017	2018
Portugal	 17 	 7 	 13 
Italy	 44 	 38 	 49 
France	 64 	 54 	 69 
Spain	 39 	 21 	 37 
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Solar

Solar saw the highest relative increase in 2018 compared to 2017 out of all electricity sources, increasing from 274.0 TWh to 325.8 TWh, or +18.9%. Leading this growth were the United States (+18.2 TWh, +25.2%), Japan (+12.9 TWh, +21.8%) and Germany (+6.9 TWh, +17.4%). Most OECD countries had double digit growth rates, with some even higher, showing the strong push in some countries in favor of this technology.

In contrast, Spain and Italy decreased solar generation by 12.6% and 7.8% respectively, due to lower-than-average solar irradiation in 2018 despite increases in capacity.

	Solar generation	Growth rate
2008	13.116773	114
2009	20.149477	54
2010	30.625226	52
2011	61.797808	102
2012	91.858464	49
2013	117.701572	28
2014	149.515693	27
2015	186.495174	25
2016	221.664735	19
2017	273.989408	24
2018	325.761854	19
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Wind

In 2018, wind generation supplied 744.6 TWh, 7.5% more than in 2017, led by the United States (274.8 TWh), Germany (114.1 TWh), the United Kingdom (56.6 TWh) and Spain (49.7 TWh). Wind supplied 18% of the power generation in Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain. The largest increases came from the United States (+20.6 TWh, +8.1%), Germany (+7.9 TWh, +7.5%) and the UK (+7.0 TWh, +14.1%).

	Wind generation	Growth rate
2008	 188 	26.4
2009	 224 	18.7
2010	 266 	19.0
2011	 329 	23.7
2012	 378 	14.7
2013	 446 	18.1
2014	 484 	8.5
2015	 553 	14.3
2016	 602 	8.9
2017	 693 	15.1
2018	 745 	7.5
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As wind flows depend on pressure gradients and air temperature, wind generation was affected by extreme weather events in 2018, such as the summer heat wave affecting in Europe, which led to a continent-wide generation drop in July; electricity output was lower than in the same period in 2015, even with the large capacity increase in the three years in between. Very high peaks of generation were seen in January and March. The difference between the highest and lowest monthly generation levels was one of the highest on record, with the minimum electricity output at just 38.3% of the maximum.

	2015	2016	2017	2018
Jan	 34 	 36 	 32 	 47 
Feb	 27 	 36 	 35 	 33 
Mar	 29 	 27 	 35 	 42 
Apr	 22 	 25 	 28 	 32 
May	 25 	 23 	 23 	 24 
Jun	 18 	 18 	 25 	 22 
Jul	 21 	 20 	 24 	 18 
Aug	 18 	 22 	 24 	 25 
Sep	 21 	 19 	 24 	 29 
Oct	 20 	 22 	 38 	 38 
Nov	 33 	 30 	 35 	 39 
Dec	 37 	 32 	 48 	 44 
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Combustible renewables

Combustible renewables grew by 12.0 TWh (+4.2%) in the OECD, generating 298.9 TWh of electricity in 2018. The main countries using these fuels for electricity generation are the United States (63.8 TWh), Germany (52.0 TWh) and the United Kingdom (33.3 TWh). In terms of share, Denmark and Finland produce around 18% of their electricity from renewable combustibles, the highest shares in the OECD. Significant increases in generation from combustible renewables in 2018 were seen in Germany (+4.2 TWh, +8.9%), France (+3.4 TWh, +48.6%) and United Kingdom (+2.9 TWh, +9.7%).

Geothermal

Geothermal generation grew by 4.9%, up to 49.3 TWh in the OECD. Turkey accounted for half of the total OECD growth in this technology (1.4 TWh, +26.7%). The other main contributors were Iceland (+839.8 GWh, +16.2%) and the USA (+531.8 GWh, +3.4%).

Renewables vs Non Renewables

Total renewable technologies accounted for 71.8% of the increase in generation in the power sector during 2018, continuing a trend that has seen renewables increase their share in the OECD electricity mix by 9.8% since 2008, now reaching 27.4%.

	Non-renewable	Renewable
2008	82.4	17.6
2009	81.2	18.8
2010	80.8	19.2
2011	79.6	20.4
2012	78.5	21.5
2013	77.3	22.7
2014	76.6	23.4
2015	75.7	24.3
2016	74.7	25.3
2017	73.5	26.5
2018	72.6	27.4
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Electricity trade

Germany and France remain the top electricity exporters of OECD Europe, but the gap between them has narrowed as France increased its nuclear production and increased its exports by 15.3 TWh in 2018 compared to 2017, up to 76.6 TWh. Other significant exporters are Switzerland (31.9 TWh) and Sweden (30.8 TWh). Italy was again the main electricity importer of OECD Europe by far, bringing in 47.2 TWh, followed by Germany (31.7 TWh), Switzerland (29.6 TWh), Austria (28.1 TWh) and Netherlands (27.0 TWh).

Looking at net electricity trade, 20 of the 27 countries in OECD Europe decreased their net electricity exports in 2018 compared to 2017. The status of “net importer/exporter” of OECD Europe countries remained the same as 2017 with two exceptions: Latvia went from being a net exporter to becoming net importer in 2018, as hydro generation (its main source of electricity) fell heavily due to the intense drought affecting the country. Switzerland went from net importer to net exporter as nuclear generation rose. In 2018, 15 countries in OECD Europe were net importers and 11 were net exporters (Iceland has no trade partners for electricity).

France was the top net electricity exporter in OECD Europe in 2018 (63.3 TWh), regaining the top spot after Germany (48.5 TWh in 2018) led for 2 years, followed by Sweden (17.3 TWh), Czech Republic (13.9 TWh) and Norway (10.1 TWh), all of which had more than 80% of their electricity mix based on hydro and/or nuclear power. On the other hand, the main net electricity importers were Italy (43.9 TWh), Finland (19.9 TWh), the United Kingdom (18.3 TWh) and Belgium (17.3 TWh, almost three times the value of 2017).

Net electricity exports in Europe, 2017 and 2018
 
 

Notes

  • Other renewables includes geothermal, tide, wave, ocean and other non-combustible sources. Also generation not specified elsewhere is included in this section.
  • Other combustibles include oil, combustible renewables and non-renewable combustibles (apart from natural gas and coal).