The Covid-19 crisis brought about unprecedented reductions in CO2 emissions and energy consumption, benefiting renewables. This effect may be temporary however – but it could also mark the beginning of an ecological transition compatible with safeguarding the planet.
On the subject of climate, a swallow has never made a summer. But still, never in living memory have we seen a swallow like this one. The reductions in CO2 emissions and energy consumption brought by the Covid-19 crisis are unprecedented. Neither the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 nor the 2009 crisis had such an impact. In its annual report on global energy trends , the consulting firm Enerdata predicts a 7.5 per cent drop in the planet’s energy consumption in 2020 and an 8.5 per cent drop in its energy-related CO2 emissions. This is of course the result of the global recession – the IMF forecasts that world GDP will fall by 3 per cent in 2020.
For France, the drop is set to be even bigger: -10 per cent for energy consumption and -12 per cent for CO2 emissions, figures more or less in line with the European average. In Europe the economic shock (a contraction of GDP of 8.2 per cent, based on a May estimate that has since been exceeded) has been greater than elsewhere in the world due to the scale of lockdown measures and the associated economic freeze.
More renewables in the mix
“CO2 emissions have fallen more than energy consumption”, says Bruno Lapillonne, one of the authors of the study and co-founder of Enerdata. Globally, the gap is one percentage point, and it is particularly large in Germany. Where does this gap come from? “It can be explained by the increase in the share of decarbonated energies in the electricity mix”, continues the expert. With the crisis, electricity consumption has fallen (by around 10 per cent in Europe in 2020). Admittedly, households in lockdown have consumed more electricity than usual, but this is more than cancelled out by the declines in industry. However, when demand for electricity falls, electricity suppliers shift their focus away from energy sources with higher marginal costs (coal or gas) and towards those with low or zero marginal costs (nuclear, wind and solar). With a wind turbine, for example, the production of an additional kWh costs nothing compared to the kWh already produced, whereas with a fossil-fired power plant, the price of fuel has to be paid.
The Covid-linked fall in electricity consumption has thus benefited low-marginal-cost types of energy generation, which in 2020 means much more decarbonated energy, in particular renewables. In Germany, the share of renewables in the electricity mix could increase from 42 per cent in 2019 to 49 per cent in 2020. In France, the leap would be from 21 per cent to 25