According to European Environment Agency (EEA) early estimates, in 2022, the EU’s final energy consumption by end users fell by 1.5% compared to 2021 levels. Primary energy consumption, which includes all energy uses, also fell by 4% from 2021 to 2022. Despite this recent progress and an overall reduction in energy consumption since 2005, achieving the 2030 targets will require annual reductions in energy consumption at a much faster rate than has been reached over the last decade. It is very unlikely that the EU will meet its energy efficiency targets for 2030 without strong, immediate, and decisive actions to reduce energy consumption in the coming years.

Reducing energy consumption typically leads to a reduction in environmental pressures associated with the production and consumption of energy. It supports the achievement of the EU renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, lowers emissions of air pollutants with its associated health benefits and enhances energy security.

In September 2023, the EU adopted the recast Energy Efficiency Directive (EU) 2023/1791, which set a binding target for 2030 of 763 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) for final energy consumption (FEC), and an indicative target of 992.5Mtoe for primary energy consumption (PEC). FEC represents the energy used by final consumers. PEC represents the total energy demand within a country, including losses.

According to EEA early estimates for 2022, the EU-wide PEC levels were 1,259Mtoe, while EU-wide FEC levels were 954Mtoe, which represents a decrease of 1.5% and 4% respectively, compared to 2021. The reductions can be largely attributed to high energy prices, especially for gas. These developments occurred mainly as a result of the invasion of Ukraine and the EU’s reduction in Russian fossil fuel imports. The EU and its Member States also took active measures to save energy, such as the Council Regulation on coordinated demand reduction measures for gas (EU/2022/1369), according to which Member States agreed to reduce their gas demand by 15% compared to their average consumption in the past five years. All this led to significant decreases in energy consumption by industry and, to a lesser extent, households. Further, outages in nuclear reactors in France had a significant impact in PEC. On the contrary, energy consumption in transport and of liquid fuels more generally saw an increase during 2022.

Looking at the full time-series of developments in energy efficiency in Europe since 2005, overall reductions been more pronounced for PEC (-16%) than for FEC (-8%). The replacement of fossil fuels and nuclear energy by renewables in electricity generation typically reduces PEC without affecting FEC, and the share of renewable energy in the EU has more than doubled since 2005. Various other factors have contributed to the reduction of the energy demand in the EU, such as energy saving measures, energy transformation improvements, structural changes towards less energy intensive industries and gradually warmer winters because of climate change.

Compared with the average annual reductions of the last ten years, reaching the PEC target for 2030 would require multiplying the annual reductions by three, and for the FEC target by nine, in each year for the rest of this decade. Based on this trend, the EU is currently not on track to meet the 2030 targets on energy consumption. Deep and fast transformation of the energy sector is necessary during this decade if the targets are to be met. A stronger emphasis on efforts to conserve energy and deploy renewable sources faster are also needed. To maximise benefits, new measures could empower users to operate in response to the system’s needs. Member States will develop their policies and measures in updated National Energy and Climate Plans, due to be submitted to the European Commission in June 2024. These may include pathways to address the energy efficiency shortfall.

Twenty Member States have decreased their FEC between 2005 and 2022, with Greece, the Netherlands and Spain achieving the highest reductions. Twenty-five Member States have decreased their PEC during the same time period, with Greece as the biggest achiever followed by France, Germany and Italy. Bulgaria’s PEC 2022 remained slightly above their 2005 level, while Poland is the only country to experience a substantial increase in PEC. Poland’s significant decrease in coal consumption was overcompensated by an increase in the consumption of gas, liquid fuels and, especially, by more than tripling the consumption of renewable energy since 2005.

Looking at the short-term trend, 18 Member States saw a decrease in FEC between 2021 and 2022, with the Netherlands, France and Austria reducing FEC the most. Malta saw the highest increase in FEC in the same time period, driven by a revitalisation of international aviation. The Netherlands and France experienced the strongest drop in PEC, with lower consumption of coal, gas and, especially, nuclear being a key factor. Twelve Member States saw an increase in PEC in 2022, with Malta, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Estonia experiencing growth of more than 5%.