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Progress on energy efficiency in Europe (ENER 037) - Assessment published Mar 2013

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Generic metadata


Energy Energy (Primary topic)

household energy consumption | energy consumption | consumption | energy | environment | cooling | energy efficiency | space heating | air conditioning
DPSIR: Response
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • ENER 037
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Austria Belgium Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Finland France Germany Greece Hungary Ireland Italy Latvia Lithuania Luxembourg Malta Netherlands Poland Portugal Romania Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden United Kingdom

Key policy question: Is the final energy consumption becoming more efficient?

Key messages

Over the period 1990-2010, energy efficiency increased by 20% in EU-27 countries at an annual average rate of 1.1%/year, driven by improvements in the industrial sector (1.7%/year) and households (1.6%/year).

Odyssee ODEX - energy efficiency index (EU-27)

Note: ODEX is an aggregated energy efficiency index

Data source:
  • ODYSSEE provided by Earth Observation - Environment (ACRI-ST)
Downloads and more info

Energy efficiency gain from building standards of new buildings in the EU-27

Note: The figure shows an estimate of the impact standards on new buildings had on the average unit consumption for space heating of the dwelling stock for the EU as a whole. New dwellings built in 2010 consume “in theory” ( i.e. according to the standards) around 40% less than in 1990.

Data source:
  • ODYSSEE provided by Earth Observation - Environment (ACRI-ST)
Downloads and more info

Drivers of the change in average annual energy consumption per household in the EU-27 between 1990 and 2010

Note: The energy consumption of households is decomposed in different explanatory effects: change in average dwelling size, increasing number of appliances (more electrical appliances) and central heating diffusion, energy efficiency improvement (as measured from ODEX) and change in behaviour related to more confort.

Data source:
  • ODYSSEE provided by Earth Observation - Environment (ACRI-ST)
Downloads and more info

Household energy consumption for space heating per m2 (2010, climate corrected)

Note: The figure shows the households energy consumption for space heating per m² in 2010

Data source:
  • ODYSSEE provided by Earth Observation - Environment (ACRI-ST)
Downloads and more info

Household energy consumption for cooling per m2 (2010)

Note: The figure shows the energy consumption for cooling per m2 for selected countries

Data source:
  • ODYSSEE provided by Earth Observation - Environment (ACRI-ST)
Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Energy efficiency improvement for final consumers

  • Over the period 1990-2010 energy efficiency for final consumers has improved by 20%, at an annual average rate of 1.1%/year, as measured according to the ODEX indicator (Figure 1). All of the observed improvement took place before 2007 (-1.3%/year). In more recent years, progress in improving energy efficiency slowed down and the trend was even reversed in 2009 due to the economic recession (increase of ODEX by 0.4% in 2009, implying a deterioration of energy efficiency by 0.4% compared to 2008). Because of the slower progress since 2007, energy efficiency only improved by 0.9%/year on average at EU level between 2005 and 2010.
  • Over the period 1990-2010, energy efficiency in industry has improved in EU-27 countries by 29%, at an annual average rate of 1.7% per year (Figure 1). Greater progress was achieved in the nineties (2.2%/year) and there was a slow down between 2000 and 2007 (1.8%/year). Since 2008, there has been no further progress. In fact we observe a reverse in trend since 2009. The loss of efficiency during a recession period is linked to the fact that, the energy consumption does not follow the reduction in activity as part of the consumption is not linked to the level of production, also because industrial equipment, such as kilns, boilers or motors, are less efficient when they do not operate at full capacity. In 2010, energy efficiency continued to deteriorate (by 0.3%), although there was a strong recovery in industrial production (+7.4%); there is no clear explanation behind this observed trend’. Over the period 1990-2010, improvements took place in all industrial branches except the textile industry. The three most energy intensive branches (chemicals, steel and paper), which represent over 50% of the energy consumption of the sector, reduced their specific energy consumption, i.e. energy consumption per unit of physical output, by 53%, 27% and 11% respectively. Significant improvements were also made in the machinery and cement industries which reduced their specific energy consumption by 31% and 17% respectively.
  • Over the period 1990-2010, energy efficiency in the household sector increased by 27%, at an average rate of 1.6% per year (Figure 1). Most of this progress was due to space heating (improvement of 1.8%/year) followed by large electrical appliances (1.4%/year). However, part of this improvement was offset by an increase in the number of appliances and larger homes. The combined effect of these two factors increased the energy consumption per dwelling by around 0.4% a year on average (Figure 3), offsetting around 45% of the energy efficiency improvement achieved through technological innovation.
  • Energy efficiency improvements for space heating occurred as a result of better thermal performance of buildings encouraged by mandatory efficiency standards for new buildings, increase in the penetration of  condensing boilers and heat pumps and the thermal retrofitting of existing dwellings. All EU countries have developed thermal regulations for new dwellings, some of them being introduced as far back as during the seventies[1]. These standards require a theoretical maximum heating unit consumption for new buildings. However, the magnitude of the impact of such standards varies across the countries, depending on the number of standards upgrades, their severity and the annual volume of construction (i.e. the share of new buildings in the total stock). It is estimated that new dwellings built in 2010 consumed about 40% less energy than dwellings built in 1990, because of new building codes[2]. This impact is however limited due to the fact that dwellings built since 1990 only represented 20% of the total stock in 2010. Figure 2 shows an estimate of the impact standards on new buildings had on the average unit consumption for space heating of the dwelling stock for the EU as a whole[3]: standards for new buildings contributed to reducing the average unit consumption of the building stock by 0.5%/year on average between 1990 and 2010, which represents one third of the total saving. By 2020 all new buildings in the EU should be “nearly-zero energy buildings” according to the EPBD. The required decrease in energy consumption of “low energy buildings” will range from 30 to 50% of what is presently required for new buildings with the existing regulations. That would generally correspond to an annual energy consumption of 40-60 kWh/m2 in EU countries (including generally energy use for water heating, air conditioning, ventilation and lighting). For large appliances, the improvement in energy efficiency results from technical improvement driven by EU mandatory Directives on labelling, minimum energy standards for cold appliances and voluntary agreements with CECED (the association of domestic equipment manufacturers). As a result, the share of appliances which are most efficient (A, A+, A++) has increased significantly: from 6% in 1997 to 94% in 2009 for refrigerators and from 3% to 95% for washing machines, for example[4].
  • The energy used for space heating (at normal climate) per m2 has decreased steadily by around 1.8%/year at EU level from 1990 to 2010 with even an acceleration since 2000 (2.6 %/year).The specific annual energy consumption per m² for space heating decreased in all countries since 2000, except in Bulgaria and Italy (Figure 4). The reduction was quite significant in The Netherlands[5], Ireland and France since 1990, as well as in some new member countries since 2000 (e.g. Romania, Latvia, Slovenia), thanks to a combined effect of higher energy prices and energy efficiency improvements. There is a factor 4 difference between the lowest energy consumption per m2 in southern countries such as Cyprus and Spain and the northern countries with the highest unit consumption (Estonia, Finland, Latvia); there is a factor 2 difference between these highest values and the other Mediterranean countries (Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy) and The Netherlands. On average, the unit consumption for space heating stands around 130 kWh/m2 for the EU as a whole in 2010 (Figure 5).
  • Energy consumption for air conditioning per m2 for the stock average is increasing rapidly (Figure 6, graph 1). However, air conditioning consumption per m2 related to dwellings with air conditioning only has decreased since 2000 in most countries due to improved efficiency of air conditioners : by around -6%/year in Cyprus, -1.1%/year in Croatia, -0.9%/year in Austria, -0.3%/year in Italy and Spain. Trends are reversed for Slovenia and Bulgaria with an increasing electricity consumption of air conditioning, by respectively 0.2%/year and 0.6%/year (Figure 6, graph 2). The share of dwellings with air conditioning has particularly increased in Spain (from 15% in 2000 to 60% in 2010), Italy (from 11% to 35%), Cyprus (from 40% to 90%) and Croatia (from 17% to 27%). In Bulgaria and Slovenia the diffusion of air conditioning is more recent but important (15% of dwellings equipped in 2010). In 2010, the average unit consumption per m2 for air-conditioning is still low as the percentage of dwellings with air conditioning is low although progressing rapidly. In Italy, Spain and Cyprus (three countries with a relative high share of dwellings with air-conditioning, 35% 60% and 90% respectively), the average unit consumption for air-conditioning  is particularly low (less than 5 kWh/m2) compared to more than 20 kWh/m2 for Croatia, or 55 kWh/m2 for Bulgaria. (Figure 7).
  • In the EU-27 countries, energy efficiency in the transport sector increased by 15% between 1990 and 2010, at an annual average rate of 0.8% due to increased efficiency particularly for passenger cars and airplanes.

The energy efficiency of cars, measured by the reduction in the specific consumption of fuel by cars (l/100 km), improved by 0.9%/year. This improvement results from the combined effect of higher fuel prices[6] and several types of EU and national policy measures on new cars, such as the voluntary agreement of the European Commission with three cars manufacturers associations (ACEA, JAMA and KAMA agreements) signed in 1995, more recently the new regulation imposing a limit of 130 g CO2/km for car manufacturers for their average sales by 2015[7]., the mandatory labeling of new cars imposed by an EU directive[8] and a new fiscal regime lowering the tax for efficient cars in EU many countries. The impact of all these measures was as significant reduction in the average emission of new cars[9]. Since 2005 we can observe a slowdown in the improvement of energy efficiency for trucks and light vehicles[10], resulting in an increase in the consumption of road goods per tonne-kilometre. Even a loss of efficiency has been observed since 2008 because of the economic crisis. Slower progress can be observed for rail and inland waterways, with a small decrease in the unit consumption[11] of 0.5%/year and 0.4%/year over the years 1990-2010 respectively.

  • In the service sector, the fuel consumption per employee[12], which mainly correspond to thermal uses, has decreased by 0.9%/year since 1990, with an acceleration since 2005 (-2.3%/year).  Electricity consumption per employee in EU-27 increased by 1.1%/year since 1990, due to increased use of air conditioning in southern countries and use of IT and other electrical equipment in general. In fact, the service sector saw the highest increase in energy consumption since 1990 (see ENER16). Since 2005 there is a reverse trends with a slight decrease of the electricity consumption per employee (-0.2%/year compared to +1.5%/year from 1990 to 2005).

    [1] Including for instance France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden.

    [2] Estimation based on the relative performance of new buildings built with new regulations, based on building codes, compared to the performance of new buildings built in 1990. 

    [3] This estimate was based on a modelling assuming for new dwellings that their unit consumption is equal to the theoretical consumption as implied by the standards. This approach overestimates the impact of building regulations as it is well known, but not well quantified, that the actual unit of new dwellings is higher than this consume more than this theoretical consumption, because of non compliance and rebound effects (the fact that in well insulated dwellings occupants tend to have a higher indoor temperature than in less insulated dwellings).

    [4] Source: GFK

    [5] This could be due to extensive insulation measures in existing dwellings, to the large diffusion of gas condensing boilers and to the structure of the dwellings stock, with relatively few detached single family dwellings.  

    [6] Mainly since 1999: the average price of motor fuels for cars (weighted average of gasoline and diesel) was 47% higher in 2008 than in 1999 in the EU (real prices corrected for inflation).

    [7] Regulation (EC) No 443/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the Community's integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles.

    [8] Directive 1999/94/EC on passenger car labelling on fuel economy rating.


    [10] The energy efficiency of trucks and light vehicles is measured as the ratio between the energy consumption and the traffic of goods in tone-kilometre.

    [11] Unit energy consumption per gross tonne-kilometre of rail and unit energy consumption per tonne-kilometre of water.

    [12] At normal climate.

    Data sources

      provided by Enerdata Research Service

    More information about this indicator

    See this indicator specification for more details.

    Contacts and ownership

    EEA Contact Info

    Anca-Diana Barbu


    EEA Management Plan

    2012 2.8.1 (note: EEA internal system)


    Frequency of updates

    Updates are scheduled once per year in October-December (Q4)
    European Environment Agency (EEA)
    Kongens Nytorv 6
    1050 Copenhagen K
    Phone: +45 3336 7100