MADRIDMADRID (Reuters) - Europe's long goodbye to coal is speeding up, in a transition smoothed by the rise of wind and solar power and energy policy that has priced the fossil fuel out of many markets, according to data released on Wednesday.
Centuries after powering Europe's industrial revolution, coal cannot compete with less polluting fuels to generate electricity, prompting governments and companies to close mines and plants.
Renewable sources of power have taken over for the first time in 2020, generating 40% of European Union electricity, while fossil fuels generated 34%, independent think-tank Ember said in a half-yearly report.
In Spain, coal generation fell 58% in the first six months of the year, even before half its remaining plants closed in June as they no longer complied with EU emissions rules.
Ember's findings were reinforced by Global Energy Monitor researchers, who predicted a record rate of closures globally in 2020.
The pace of plant closures in Spain, with 69% of the entire fleet to be shuttered between 2020 and 2021, has no precedent, Global Energy Monitor program director Christine Shearer said.
"The fact that such a rapid decline has taken place indicates the increasingly uncompetitive economics of coal power," Shearer said.
The COVID-19 outbreak depressed power demand, further reducing coal consumption, the analysts said.
In Portugal, coal generation fell 95% in the first half of 2020, Ember said. Last week major utility EDP brought forward its Iberian plant closures to 2021, after writing down their value last year.
The Netherlands, Austria and France all saw reductions of more than 50%. Sweden and Austria closed their last plants in March.
In Germany coal generation fell 39%, taking it for the first time below Poland, which now generates as much electricity from coal as the EU's remaining 25 countries put together.
All five EU countries with no clear closure plan for their plants are in central and eastern Europe, consultancy Energy Aspects said in a separate report this month, predicting Poland's coal reliance will cause tension in the bloc.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Inti Landauro and Jan Harvey)