Renewable energy 2000 to 2010 — from toddler to teen

Article Published 06 Jan 2011 Last modified 11 May 2021
5 min read
The renewable energy sector has developed a lot the last ten years — a largely ignored toddler has become a wilful teenager. Decisions that can help it mature further will depend on understanding what has nurtured its growth so far.

The decade started with a ground-breaking and ambitious proposal: mandatory targets for renewable energy across the EU. Some European countries had been active for years in the sector and were confident of meeting their targets. For others the targets necessitated significant upgrades of political, administrative and planning procedures in order to cope with wholesale changes. This was an important milestone in the renewable energy sector's development. It demonstrated that the European Commission had the mandate and the will to implement directives tackling a sector that is extremely sensitive at Member State level.

Supportive policies and external influences

Targets for renewable energy cannot succeed if isolated from other factors. Developing and integrating renewable energy is, by nature, more complex and challenging than fossil fuel installations. Policymakers have thus introduced a string of legislation across related sectors (Figure 1).

One of the most visible outcomes is the creation of the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS), the biggest and most successful of such trading system in the world. While there has been considerable controversy about the way in which allowances have been allocated, the fact that more than 40 % of EU greenhouse gas emissions are covered — and potentially controlled — is a huge achievement. In 2012, EU policy development will take another important step forward with the inclusion of aviation into the EU ETS, along with auctioning of at least half of the permits.


By enabling a price to be allocated to carbon emissions, the EU ETS delivers large indirect benefits to the renewables sector, strengthening the underlying economics of renewable energy installation. This trend will only continue as the cap decreases and the value of carbon increases.

Additional legislation that has helped create a supportive environment for investment includes minimum taxation of fossil fuel products, a European Energy Policy, agreement on a target to limit the increase in average global temperatures to less than 2 °C and, more recently, an emphasis on new energy technologies as a way to stimulate the economy. There is also the ongoing programme in competitiveness and innovation, which continues to deliver practical projects supporting renewables at all scales across Europe.

External issues have played their part in indirectly supporting the sector. Russia provided a great boost to domestic energy production when it turned off gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006, causing ripples of anxiety across Europe and influencing the Energy Security and Solidarity Plan. The oil price spike of 2007 also provided a timely reminder that oil production is subject to the laws of physical geology rather than just supply and demand, concentrating the minds of even the most sceptical politicians and decision-makers.


By 2007, renewables accounted for about 8 % of total energy consumption in the EU. Looking further ahead, the EU has set a legally enforceable target of generating 20 % of consumed energy from renewables by 2020. As we pause for breath at the end of a decade of frenetic activity, it is worth recognising these achievements for what they are.

The development of a competitive internal energy market

Along with target setting, the EU has undertaken complementary work on the internal market to increase competition and trade in energy. Initial legislative measures were unsuccessful but a stronger set of regulations should improve the situation from 2011. Without a transparent and effective system of international energy competition and cooperation (yes, these two can operate in parallel), large renewable energy developments will be left with no clear market for their energy and investment will be stifled.


Issues related to the energy grid are particularly important. Indeed, in many EU Member States grid capacity is the main bottleneck in the system and without continuing European interest in the matter the situation will worsen. With that in mind, it is heartening to see progress through a number of public-private partnerships, such as the Mediterranean Solar Plan, the Desertec project and the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid. These kinds of initiatives will help encourage much needed private investors into the sector. And they demonstrate the coordinated approach and intergovernmental support that will be needed for successful grid development across the continent.

Environmental impacts of renewable technologies

The European Environment Agency (EEA), too, has played its own small part in this decade of development. As we enter an era of increased environmental scrutiny of all developments, it is only right and proper that renewable energy is subject to the same provisions of environmental safeguarding required by other energy developments. The EEA plays the role of a "critical friend" to the industry, providing technical guidance to policymakers, researchers, businesses and citizens on the environmental impacts, both positive and negative, of renewable energy developments.

Over the last ten years we have published a significant body of resource assessments and analysis on most renewable technologies (Figure 1). Our work in the sector continues into 2011 with another look at the consequences of strong bioenergy growth, examining the potential for hydropower in Europe, and exploring the issues facing the European grid under scenarios of large-scale renewable deployment.

A new decade of opportunities

As the new decade starts, the EU has demonstrated its continued appetite for energy development with the publication of its infrastructure priorities. Denmark, Portugal and Spain have all embraced wind energy, and for Denmark and Spain in particular, this has led to a significant export market in wind technology. Finland, Sweden and others can consider their vast forestry reserves as a renewable resource for the rest of Europe, the Norwegian pumped hydro storage facilities can act as the energy storage reservoirs for much of the continent, and the Mediterranean states have ample sunlight offering strong investment opportunities.

In the last two years, more capacity has been added to the renewables sector than any other. Over the last ten years, wind ran a close second to gas for net installed capacity. From north to south, east to west, Europe's renewables sector is developing. And although this rapidly-growing, renewable energy teenager can expect some hard knocks as it takes its place in the world alongside oil, gas and coal, there is no doubt that it is here to stay.


Figure 1: 2000-2010 timeline of European energy developments and EEA publications.

Clubb, D. TimeGlider Presentation: Energy developments and EEA publications, 2000 to 2010.


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage