Wartsila says share of renewable energy up rapidly amid COVID-19

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finnish ship technology and power-plant maker Wartsila WRT1V.HE said on Tuesday the coronavirus outbreak has caused the share of renewable energy in Europe's power production to increase rapidly.

The pandemic has caused demand for electricity to fall across Europe, Wartsila said, according to data it collected and analysed.

Countries such as Germany, Spain and Britain have had to temporarily shut down coal-fired power generation, causing the share of renewable energy to increase rapidly in the power mix.

“Take Germany last week, they actually had over 10 gigawatts of excess energy production because they were still running their coal-fired plants ... and they were actually giving 10 gigawatts to neighbouring countries for free,” Marco Wiren, head of Wartsila’s energy business, told a conference call.

Wartsila Chief Executive Jaakko Eskola said the epidemic had brought the problems related to coal power to daylight.

“Coal-fired electricity production has to be run at full capacity all the time, it cannot be adjusted. To top it all, it’s the dirtiest, or shall we say not the cleanest source of energy,” Eskola told Reuters.

Wartsila’s data analysis showed coal-based power generation fell by 25.5% across the European Union and the United Kingdom in the first three months of 2020 year-on-year, as a result of the response to COVID-19, with renewable energy reaching a 43% share.

The drop in demand has sent electricity prices down, and the low electricity prices, combined with renewables-friendly policy measures, have begun squeezing out fossil fuel power generation, the company said, citing data it had collected.

Germany has seen the share of renewables reach 60%, up 12% from a year ago period between March 10 and April 10, and coal generation fell 44%, Wartsila said.

In Britain, renewables now have a 43% share of generation, up 10% on the same period in 2019, with coal power down 35% and gas down 24%, it added.

Spain currently has 49% renewables with coal power down by 41%, while Italy has seen the steepest fall in demand, down 21% so far, it said.

The Finnish company, which sells adjustable power plants as well as energy management and storage systems, has developed what it calls an open-data platform which provides detailed information on electricity generation, demand and pricing for all 27 EU countries and the United Kingdom.

Eskola said the epidemic is likely to speed up transition to cleaner energy sources.

“These observations will take those discussions forward,” Eskola said.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise