Output from fossil-fired thermal plants contracted by 10.6 % year-on-year in 2020. Sharp declines were seen across all segments.
Gas-fired generation, which makes up the lion’s share of fossil-fired thermal generation, fell by 10.4 %, or around 4 TWh. Coal-fired generation decreased by 12.7 % and oil-fired generation by 13.3 %.
In 2020, coal-fired power generation reached an all-time low of 1.4 TWh, down 12.7 % from a year earlier. Plant availability was the same as in 2019. This low level of output is primarily explained by the shrinking economic space for coal-fired plants, against a backdrop of generally lower power demand, and by the carbon price.
Coal-fired generation is unlikely to contract further in 2021, but it will cease in 2022, with the planned closure (or conversion to a different fuel) of France’s last coal plants.
Coal-fired generation has declined sharply starting in the 1980s to be gradually replaced by nuclear power, then by new renewable sources (wind and solar) and gas.
As of today, coal represents 3.6% of total fossil-fired thermal generation.
Starting in February, coal power plants were fired up much less often, though they were needed temporarily during the heatwaves of July, partly to make up for a drop in nuclear generation due to maintenance schedules and the need to comply with environmental constraints during periods of high temperatures and drought conditions.
In September, coal-fired plants were once again called upon as demand rose and nuclear power plant availability remained low.
Though nuclear generation had resumed in October, technical and economic conditions favoured reliance on coal power plants, as the gas price was rising and the CO2 price decreasing, giving coal a slight advantage over other thermal power plants.
The months of November and December saw renewed reliance on coal power plants due to demand increasing with the approach of winter.