Overview of the European energy system (ENER 036) - Assessment published Mar 2013
- ENER 036
Key policy question: Is the European energy system becoming more efficient?
The EU27 is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and it accounts for 76.4 % of primary energy consumption whereas renewables accounted only for 9.8 %. The share of fossil fuels (coal, lignite, oil and natural gas) in gross inland consumption of the EU-27 declined slightly from 83.1 % in 1990 to 76.4 % in 2010.
The EU’s dependence on imports of fossil fuels (gas, solid fuels and oil) from non-EU countries has remained relatively stable between 2005 and 2010. In 2010 EU-27 imported 53.8 % of its total gross inland energy consumption. Oil imports are the highest and accounted for 58.6 % of total GIEC, followed by gas then solid fuels which accounted for 28.8 % and 12.6 % of total GIEC.
In 2010 only 71.5 % of the total primary energy consumption in the EU-27 reached the end users. Between 1990 and 2010, energy losses in transformation and distribution have slowly declined from 29.2 % to 28.5 %.
The average energy efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production of conventional thermal power stations and district heating plants in the EU-27 improved over the period 1990 and 2010 by 5.1 percentage points to reach 51.2% in 2010. The main increase was seen between 1990 and 2005 with an increase of 7.0 percentage points (from 45.4% in 1990 to 52.3% in 2005). The improvement until 2005 was due to the closure of old inefficient plants, improvements in existing technologies, often combined with a switch from coal power plants to more efficient combined cycle gas-turbines. Between 2005 and 2010, there was a slight fall in efficiency of electricity and heat production from conventional thermal power plants and district heating plants of 1.1 percentage points (from 52.3% in 2005 to 51.2% in 2010) because of lower heat production.
Overview of the energy system in 2010
- In 2010 only 71.5 % of the total primary energy consumption in the EU-27 reached end users. Distribution, energy-sector’s own consumption of energy and conversion losses represented 28.5 % of which 5 % resulted from energy consumption by the energy sector.
- The EU27 is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels (see ENER 26), and it accounts for 76.4 % of primary energy consumption whereas renewables accounted only for 9.8 %. It is interesting to see that over 65 % total petroleum products in the EU27 after transformation in refineries are those refined in the EU27 originating from indigenous production and imported crude oil, rather than imported petroleum products. Subsequently 340 Mtoe of these petroleum products are exported outside the EU27.
- A high proportion of the fossil fuels used in the EU27 in 2010 were imported from outside the EU. Net import accounted for 91 %, 62 % and 39 % of gross inland consumptions of oil, gas and solid fuels.
- The high dependency on oil arises as a result of high consumption in the transport sector which is still very dependent on petrol and diesel. Increasing concerns for climate change leading to policies shifting fuel use in the transport sector has led to electricity (15.1 Mtoe) and renewables (13.3 Mtoe) consumption in transport, but these are yet to make a significant contribution (see ENER 16). The other sector where oil is the most dominant fuel is in the non-energy use sector where oil is used for example as lubricants. On the other hand, oil only accounts for a small proportion of the transformation input into power stations (ENER 38).
- Nuclear heat accounts for 44.2 % of transformational input into power stations (excluding CHPs and district heating), followed by coal (24.9 %), natural gas (15.4 %) then renewables (13.5 %). In power stations, during the transformation of the energy into electricity, 58 % of fuel input is lost as conversion losses. Conversion losses are declining in the EU27 as power station efficiencies and electricity generation from renewables increases (see ENER 19 and 38). As for wind, hydro and solar PV, electricity is the primary energy form of energy so there are no associated conversion losses. The overall % of energy lost to conversion losses from electricity generation can also decrease if the % of electricity generated from CHPs increases. In 2010, conversion losses from CHPs were much less than power stations (33 %), just over 20 % of transformation output of electricity was from CHPs.
- In terms of consumption, industries consumed the highest amount of electricity, but only slightly more than domestic and other final consumers (which includes services sector) (ENER 16). Following conversion losses in transformation plants, further losses of electricity occur from distribution and consumption in the energy industry which accounts for (41.2 Mtoe or 14.5 % of electricity available for consumption). In 2010, net import of electricity was minimal (0.3 Mtoe).
- Conversion efficiencies of CHPs are higher than in power stations because the heat produced is also consumed as useful energy. In the EU27, heat is also generated from district heating plants in certain countries and the overall heat consumed from CHPs and district heating plants in 2010 was 62.8 Mtoe. Gas accounts for the highest proportion of fuel going into district heating plants (46 %).
- The largest consumer of gas in 2010 was the domestic sector (119.0 Mtoe) followed by industries (84.7 Mtoe) (see ENER 16) whereas for coal, the largest consumers are electricity generation plants (power stations and CHPs). Coal and gas are also input fuels for other transformation plants which produce manufactured fuels.
 Definitions are provided in the meta data. The Gross Inland Energy Consumption does not include bunkers.
 See ‘Methodology and assumptions used for the Sankey diagram’ for definitions of components that make up power stations.
Summaries the overall picture of the energy system in the EU (Mtoe)
Note: The figure is a Sankey diagram which shows the composition of the primary energy entering the energy system of the EU-27 in 2010, and where this primary energy was used, either as losses or as consumption by specific sectors of the economy.
- Energy balance sheet (Eurostat) provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
Key assessment: conversion, transmission and distribution losses in the European energy production system
- The average energy efficiency of electricity and heat production from conventional thermal power stations and district heating plants in the EU-27 improved over the period 1990 and 2010 by 5.1 percentage points to reach 51.2% in 2010 (49.6 % excluding district heating). The main increase was seen between 1990 and 2005 with an increase of 7.0 percentage points (from 45.4% in 1990 to 52.3% in 2005). Between 2005 and 2010, there was slight fall in efficiency of electricity and heat production from conventional thermal power plants and district heating plants of 1.1 percentage points (from 52.3% in 2005 to 51.2% in 2010) because of lower heat production. Efficiency fell significantly in 2007 to 49.4% (first time efficiency fell below 50% since 2002) The drop in 2007 is due to increased electrical energy output from conventional thermal power stations in UK, Germany and Turkey (see also ENER 19).
- The efficiency trend for only public thermal power plants is similar, increasing in most EU-27 countries during 1990-2010, resulting in a net efficiency of 50.4% in 2010 (48.6% excluding district heating). Between 1990 and 2005, the average energy efficiency of public thermal power plants increased by 5.7 percentage points (from 44.6% in 1990 to 50.3% in 2005). Since 2005, the improvement in energy efficiency of public thermal power plants has been much slower, (0.1 percentage points). Autoproducers have higher energy efficiency in general because they are often designed to be more suitable for the heat and electricity demand on a location. Between 1990 and 2005 the average energy efficiency of autoproducers increased by 16.0 percentage points (from 50.6% in 1990 to 66.6% in 2005). There was a fall in efficiency between 2005 and 2010 by 8.8 percentage points (from 66.6% in 2005 to 57.9% in 2010) due to the fall in the output of derived heat (see also ENER 19).
- The improvement in efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production in the last twenty years has resulted primarily from technological developments. The increased use of combined cycle gas turbine plants (CCGT) has been an important factor in improving efficiency in the EU-15 Member States during the 90’s. Increased use of CHPs has also contributed to the increasing efficiency of electricity production. The rate of change in efficiency during this time period and the existing efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production varies significantly between the European countries (see ENER 19).
- Between 1990 and 2010, energy losses in transformation and distribution have slowly declined from 29.2 % to 28.5 %. Transformation losses represented 22.0% of EU-27 primary energy consumption in 2010. In addition to direct generation efficiency, these losses also depend on the fuel mix (e.g. direct production of electricity from renewables, excluding biomass and municipal waste, is not subject to transformation losses in the same way as fossil fuels are), the level of electricity imports and the share of nuclear power (see also ENER 13).
- Around 1.5% of primary energy is lost in distribution. This is a slight increase in comparison to 1990, where distribution losses were equal to 1.4%. Distribution losses include losses in gas and heat distribution, in electricity transmission and distribution, and in coal transport.
- In 2010, the energy supply sector itself consumed 5.0% of primary energy as part of its internal operations level which remained fairly constant since 1990. In addition, around 6.3% of primary energy products (in particular oil) are used directly as feedstocks (primarily in the petrochemical sector) rather than for energy purposes.
- The efficiency of the energy system (the ratio of final energy consumption to primary energy available for end-users) varies considerably across Member States. Energy available for final consumption ranges from 92.8 % for Luxembourg to 48.7 % for Estonia .The low level of losses in Luxembourg reflects a significant degree of electricity imports from other countries (which means that the transformation losses involved in its production are not counted in the country of final use) as well as the fact that a significant amount of electricity comes from high efficiency gas-fired power plants with the remaining demand covered from hydro and other renewables. In Estonia on the other hand, the main technologies used for power generation are low efficiency steam technology thermal power plants running primarily on oil-shale, which explains why more than 50% of the primary energy is lost. In Norway, in 2010, 94 % of the electricity was generated by hydropower (excluding pumped hydro). In Eurostat statistics the conversion efficiency used for hydropower is 100% which explains the high efficiency for Norway (79.7 % of energy available for end users).
- Losses from distribution are, on average, the smallest overall, but still subject to sizeable variation between Member States (from 0.2% of primary energy supply for Luxembourg to 4.9% for Denmark). Countries with a high amount of district heating tend to have higher overall distribution losses. This is because losses in heat distribution networks can be sizeable (in the order of 5%-25%). Network (i.e. distribution) losses primarily depend on factors such as network design, operation and maintenance, but also on population density of the country. Systems are more efficient when power lines to large consumers are as direct as possible to reduce the number of transformation steps (as these can account for almost half of network losses - Leonardo Energy, 2008). Increasing use of distributed generation may be one way to reduce such losses
 If the municipal waste is used for direct utilisation of heat (or in CHP plants), the efficiency can be high in the order of 90%. If the waste however is used for only electricity production, the efficiency is only about 30%. However, these plants are valued primarily because they offer an alternative for waste disposal so efficiency is not the main goal.
 In the statistics recorded by Eurostat the ratio of primary energy to electricity production from nuclear is fixed at 1/3.
Specific policy question: Is the European energy system decarbonising?
Key assessment: energy mix in gross inland consumption and conventional power plants
- The share of fossil fuels (coal, lignite, oil and natural gas) in gross inland consumption of the EU-27 declined slightly from 83.1 % in 1990 to 76.4 % in 2010. During this period, the share of renewables in gross inland consumption increased by 5.5 points, from 4.3 % in 1990 to 9.8 % in 2010 (see also ENER29) while the share of energy consumption from nuclear increased from 12.3 % (1990) to 13.5% (2010) (see also ENER13).
- In absolute terms, consumption of almost all fuels grew in 2010 following the fall between 2008 and 2009. Consumption of renewables grew the most (12.7 %), fossil fuels increased by 2.4 %% and nuclear by 2.5%, only the consumption of oil decreased in 2010 (by 1.0 %).
- For the non-EU EEA member states, the gross inland energy consumption increased rapidly during 1990-2010 (+ 70.% or 2.7%/year on average), mainly because of Turkey (+3.6%/year), and the growth did not stop in 2004 as observed in the EU, however, even in Turkey the consumption decreased in 2009 with the economic crisis (-0.2 %). Turkey represents now 62% of the total gross inland energy consumption of non-EU EEA member states (up from 53% in 1990). The shares by fuel in 2010 in non EU-EEA are quite different from the EU average: nuclear represents a much higher share in the EU-27 (13.5% compared to 4.2% in non EU-EEA), while renewables have a greater diffusion in non EU-EEA (18.6% in non EU-EEA compared to 9.8 % in EU-27). The share of fossil fuels is however almost identical (76-77%).
- Fuel input into conventional thermal power plants fell until 1993 (EEA, 2012), largely due to the economic restructuring in the new Member States. Between 1993 and 2007, a growth of 21 % was observed, but since 2007 fuel input decreased by 8 % to just above its level in 1990. The increase in fuel combustion during 1993-2007 is primarily as a result of increasing electricity consumption (31.7 %). Since 2007, electricity consumption in the EU-27 has stabilised (ENER16) whereas average energy efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production of conventional thermal power stations and district heating plants (ENER-19) and electricity generated from renewables (ENER-30) has continued to increase. This has led to the fall in the fossil fuel input into conventional thermal power plants.
- Efficiency of conventional thermal power plants has improved significantly since 1990, however overall fuel input into can be reduced by increasing the efficiency further. Combined heat and power (CHP) plants that utilise a greater portion of the available heat (e.g. directly for space heating or industrial steam) can reach even higher overall efficiencies of 80-90%. Given the current average efficiency and fuel mix in 2010, if conventional thermal power plants in the EU-27 were to further improve their efficiency to an average of 75 %, 400 MtCO2 can be saved (by comparison, the Kyoto commitment for the EU-15 is about 340 MtCO2).
- Despite the fact that more than half of the fuel inputs into conventional thermal power plants (electricity-only plants, heat-only plants and combined heat and power plants) are solid fossil fuels still (52.5 %), the share of solid fuels have declined significantly since 1990 (71 %). Liquid fuel use has also declined from 14 % in 1990 to 4 % in 2010. They have been replaced by increased use of gas and biomass. In absolute terms, gas and biomass input have increased by 164 % and 636 % respectively as a result of increased use of combined cycle gas turbine plants (CCGT) and environmental legislations affecting the economics of fuel use. These fuels tend to have a lower implied average emissions factor than liquid and solid fuels, thus CO2 emissions per TJ of fuel burnt has fallen 8 % since 1990.
 Not including Iceland because data post 2006 is not available in Eurostat.
Specific policy question: Are we reducing the imports of fossil fuels?
EU27 net imports of gas, oil, solid fuels and the sum of these, as a % of fuel-specific gross inland energy consumption
Note: All products is the sum of net import of solid fuels, gas and total petroleum products as a % of total gross inland consumption of all products.
- Energy statistics (Eurostat) provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
Key assessment: fossil fuel import dependency
- The EU’s energy system remains highly dependent on imported fossil fuels (see ENER 26). The EU’s dependence on imports of fossil fuels (gas, solid fuels and oil) from non-EU countries has remained very stable between 2005 and 2010, with 52.5 % the lowest and 54.6% the highest dependency (as a share of total gross inland energy consumption) (see Figure 2). However, the EU27 relies much more on imported fuels compared to levels in 1990 when 45 % of gross inland consumption of all products was from imported fossil fuels. 72 % of the increase in import dependency during this time period arises as a result of the increase in imported gas.
- Oil imports are the highest and in 2010, net oil imports accounted for 91 % of oil-based gross inland consumption, the majority of the imported oil is crude oil which is then refined in the EU rather than already refined petroleum products (Figure 1). For gas, 62 % of the gross inland consumption was from net imports. Reliance on imported solid fuel is significantly less and only 39 % of gross inland consumption of solid fuels was from net imports.
- Oil imports are the highest and accounted for 59.3 % of total net fossil fuel imports, followed by gas then slid fuels which accounted for 29.1 % and 11.6 % of total fossil fuel import respectively. The share of oil as a percentage of total fossil fuels imported has fallen since 1990 when it accounted for 71 %. This has been as a result of a steep increase in the net import of gas resulting from the increased demand from the electricity generation sector (see ENER 38).
- There is a large trade volume of petroleum products in the EU27. In 2010, 314.7 Mtoe petroleum products were imported in EU27 countries, equivalent to 51.0% of total oil-based gross inland consumption. In the same year, 291.3 Mtoe was exported. The resulting net import of petroleum products in EU27 from countries outside EU27 was equivalent to 23.4 Mtoe in 2010 (see Figure 1).
- In addition to fossil fuels, Europe imports uranium for its nuclear power industry which accounts for about 30% of the world's nuclear power generation. The EU industry has the capacity for uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication, but is dependent on imported uranium (see also ENER13). The situation is however better (from diversity of supply point of view) than for most fossil fuels, due to the wide distribution of uranium around the globe, in geopolitically stable areas. In 2010, 28% of uranium delivered to utilities in EU27 originated from Russia, 16% from Kazakhstan, 12% from Australia and 11% from Canada.
- Biomass imports in EU27 are small. In 2010, net imports as share of total primary biomass supply amounted to 4.9 % and 9.0 % of total imports (IEA, 2010).
- The net dependence on fuel imports varies significantly between Member States. This reflects differences in the availability of indigenous fossil resources and renewables (see ENER 26 and ENER29). In addition, the level of crude oil import reflects the availability of refining capacity and direct production of final products (for self-consumption or export) versus direct import of these final products (Wood Mackenzie, 2007). In some cases (for example Lithuania) this leads to high import dependence as a share of primary energy of 149% in 2010 (some refined products are exported). Conversely, for other countries there is limited or no refining capacity (for example in the case of Luxembourg) and hence only final products are imported.
 Definitions are provided in the meta data.
Energy statistics (Eurostat)
provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
Energy balance sheet (Eurostat)
provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoAnca-Diana Barbu
EEA Management Plan2012 2.8.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
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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