EN29 Renewable Energy
Assessment made on 01 Apr 2007
ClassificationEnergy (Primary theme)
DPSIR: Driving force
- ENER 029
Policy issue: How rapidly are renewable energy technologies being implemented?
Renewable energies are generally considered more environmentally benign than fossil fuels with regard to emissions of greenhouse gases as well as other air pollutants such as SO2 and NOx. The share of energy consumption from renewable energy thus provides a broad indication of progress towards reducing the environmental impact of energy consumption, although its overall impact has to be seen within the context of growth in energy use, the total fuel mix, potential impacts on biodiversity and the extent to which pollution abatement equipment is fitted.
The contribution of renewable energy sources to total energy consumption increased in the EU-25 from 4.4 % in 1990 to 6.3 % in 2004, up by 0.3 percentage points from the share in 2003. This is still substantially short of the indicative target set in the White Paper on renewable energy (COM(97) 599 final) to derive 12 % of total energy consumption in the EU from renewable sources by 2010. At present, the 12 % aim applies only to pre-2004 EU-15 Member States. In 2004, 6.4% of EU-15 energy consumption was derived from renewables while 5.2% of EU-10 energy consumption was derived from renewable energy sources. In absolute terms, renewable energy consumption grew by 58.2 % between 1990 and 2004 in the EU-25, compared to a 12 % increase in total energy consumption (EN26).
More recently, the European Commission launched a comprehensive 'energy package' (10/01/2007), which calls for a share of renewable energy in total energy consumption of 20% by 2020 http://europa.eu/press_room/presspacks/energy/index_en.htm The European Council of 8-9 March 2007 endorsed a binding target of 20% of renewable energy in total energy consumption by 2020 for the EU http://europa.eu/european_council/conclusions/index_en.htm
Biomass and waste is the largest renewable energy source (2/3 of the total) and was responsible for the majority of the absolute growth in renewables during the period 1990-2004, with an increase of 70 % in the EU-25. Biomass and waste incorporates a diverse range of sources including combustion of wood, wood wastes and other solid wastes; combustion of industrial and municipal wastes; and biogas/biofuels. It can be used to produce electricity and heat and biofuels for transport. It is also seen as one of the main areas for future growth in renewable energy - biomass and waste is projected to be the largest contributor in absolute terms to the future growth of renewable energy sources (COM(2004)366 final). However, increased use must be balanced against potentially increased environmental pressures on biodiversity, soil and water resources (EEA, 2005b, EEA 2006). Latvia, Finland, and Sweden have particularly high shares of biomass and waste in total energy consumption, around 30%, 20 % and 17 % respectively. In Latvia this is due to the large availability of low-cost wood and wood-wastes for heating rather than a coherent renewable energy support scheme (EREC, 2004), whereas in Sweden it has been due primarily to taxation favouring non-fossil fuels that was introduced in the early 1990s as well as a grant support for biomass fuelled combined heat and power, and district heating plants (Johansson, 2001).
Consumption of hydropower grew by 11.8 % over the period 1990-2004, to reach 24 % of total renewable energy consumption and 1.5 % of total energy consumption in the EU-25 in 2004. The contribution of hydropower to gross inland energy consumption is again increasing after a decrease in 2002 and 2003, which was due largely to a decrease in absolute production as a result of low rainfall in these years. Energy consumption from hydropower is not, however, expected to increase significantly due to environmental concerns and a lack of suitable sites, particularly within the EU-15. For example, the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) places a greater emphasis on the protection of the environment, in particular the river morphology (i.e. shape of the river bed and adjacent zones) as a subject of protection, and due to the obligation to prevent any further deterioration it is likely that the construction of new hydro-power plants will become more difficult. Some of the new Member States such as Slovenia do intend to increase their large hydro output significantly but the effect of this on overall EU-25 hydro capacity is still likely to be small. In 2004, 86% of hydropower gross inland energy consumption was generated from large (>10 MW) hydropower stations, while 14% came from small and medium hydro (< 10 MW) stations. After a reduction in absolute energy generation in recent years, small hydropower recovered almost to the peak of small hydro generation between 1990-2004, which occurred in 2000.
Between 1990 and 2004, wind energy in the EU-25 grew by a factor of 75; and increasing by 32% between 2003 and 2004. This was largely due to strong growth in Germany, Spain and Denmark, which was encouraged by direct price support policies (i.e. feed-in tariffs) for the development of wind power. With feed-in tariffs, a payment is made directly by the utilities to renewable electricity producers for each unit of renewable electricity supplied to the national grid; this instrument has also been applied in the the Czech Republic. Wind power is a fast-growing energy source worldwide, and this trend is expected to be reflected throughout the EU-25, as technological development both on- and offshore, combined with national renewable energy promotion policies (most notably the introduction of the feed-in tariffs), leads to the introduction of wind power in all Member States. At present however, output still accounts for a small (around 0.3 %) proportion of total energy consumption and 5 % of renewable energy consumption, slight increases in share compared with 2003.
The growth of EU-25 geothermal heat and electricity was 68 % over the period 1990-2004. The use of geothermal schemes depends on the quality (temperature and density) of the heat available. Relatively low quality heat is used as an input to district heating schemes and some industrial processes, and higher quality heat can be used to produce steam for electricity production in turbines. Geothermal energy contributed only 5 % to total renewable energy consumption (and 0.3 % of total energy consumption) in the EU-25 in 2004, with Italy accounting for around 90 % of this. Electricity from geothermal is not expected to contribute significantly to meeting the EU's indicative target for renewable energy, as resources in the EU are in general limited and costs of production high relative to other sources. However, there is still significant potential to exploit geothermal heat, particularly in the form of heat pump technology (IEA, 2004).
Between 1990 and 2004 in the EU-25, solar energy grew by around a factor of five. Solar thermal energy developments in Austria, Germany and Greece benefited greatly from proactive government policy coupled with subsidy schemes and communication strategies that emphasised the benefits of solar thermal. In 2006, Spain passed a law making solar panels compulsory in new and renovated buildings. In most Member States solar energy comes from solar thermal energy, rather than electricity generated using photovoltaic (PV) cells. At present use of PV cells is limited due to relatively high production and installation costs, but represent a medium- to long-term opportunity as costs are beginning to fall (JRC, 2004). The proportion of solar energy in total renewable energy amounted to 0.7 % (0.04 % of total energy consumption) in 2004.
Despite growing subsidies and programmes, and support for renewables in individual Member States, the observed growth rates in renewable energy consumption are not sufficient if the indicative target of a 12 % share in 2010 is to be met. Baseline projections indicate that the contribution of renewables to total energy consumption is likely to grow at around the same rate to 2010 as it did during the previous decade (European Commission 2006). The contribution of renewables in overall energy consumption is projected to reach only around 8 % in 2010, reflecting the conclusions from the Commission communication on the share of renewable energy in the EU (COM(2004) 366) that given current trends the EU will not meet its indicative 12 % target by 2010. Evaluations from the European Commission recently concluded that European states need to step up efforts to cooperate among themselves and fine-tune their support schemes as well as to remove administrative and grid barriers for green electricity (EC, 2005). The Commission concluded that it is not appropriate to present a harmonised European system at this stage.
The main growth in renewables generation is expected to come from biomass and waste, wind and solar, although the latter is starting from a very low base so its absolute share in consumption remains small. The European Commission has issued a Biomass Action Plan that proposes measures which could lead to an increase of bioenergy use to around 150 Mtoe in 2010 or shortly after (EC, 2005b). After 2010, the rate of expansion of wind power is expected to slow, as many of the most favourable (and cheapest) sites will have been exploited. However, growth is still expected to be strong in those countries that have not yet begun to fully realise their wind energy potential, including Austria, Finland, Greece and Portugal. In addition, the exploitation of the off-shore wind resource may provide additional scope for an increased contribution from wind power in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, such large-scale exploitation of offshore wind is not included within the baseline projections. This needs to be set in the context of current discussions within the European Institutions, surrounding a further indicative target of 20-25 % by 2020, which are based around the significant remaining potential of some of the renewable resources. Biomass growth is also expected to slow after 2010 due to potential conflicts in land use for agricultural and forestry areas, nature conservation requirements, as well as competition with alternative developments such as housing. Scenarios that assume shares of renewable energies significantly above baseline developments (such as the Low Carbon Energy Pathway and High Renewables scenarios, EEA, 2005) suggest a much faster expansion of biomass and waste, due primarily to a high growth in its use in electricity production in combined heat and power plants, as well as the expanded use of biofuels in transport. However, it should be noted that while increasing the use of biomass for energy purposes, it has to be ensured that no additional pressures on farmland and forest biodiversity, and water and soil resources are created.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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