Primary and final energy consumption in Europe

The Covid-19 pandemic had a profound impact on energy consumption in the European Union. In 2020, the EU’s primary energy consumption (which includes all energy uses) and final energy consumption (by end users) experienced a historic drop following two years of more moderate reductions and reached the lowest levels recorded since 1990. This helped the EU meet its 2020 energy efficiency targets for both primary and final energy consumption. However, a rebound must be avoided and long-term reductions remain necessary to achieve the EU’s energy and climate objectives for 2030 and 2050.

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The EU’s final energy consumption (FEC) fell by 8% between 2019 and 2020, according to Eurostat data. This can be largely attributed to measures adopted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to the largest annual drop in energy consumption in recent history. The absolute FEC level in 2020 (907 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe)) was the lowest since 1990 (the first year for which data are available).

The transport sector was the most affected following restrictions on mobility, with a reported reduction of 13% compared to 2019 levels. This represents a significant break in the trend after 7 consecutive years of increasing energy consumption by transport. As industrial activity declined in 2020, FEC in industry also decreased — by 3.5% from the previous year. Energy consumption in households remained stable, while consumption in commercial and public buildings dropped by a significant 5.6%, linked to lockdowns and reduced activity.

Primary energy consumption (PEC) shows an even more pronounced decrease. Between 2019 and 2020, PEC decreased by 8.6% (five times the reduction of the previous year) to a total of 1,236 Mtoe. This is the lowest level of PEC since full records have been available (1990). Following the trend of previous years, solid fossil fuels saw the largest drop (18%). However, unlike in recent years, liquid, nuclear and, to a lesser extent, gas also experienced a significant decline in 2020. The replacement of fossil fuels by renewables in electricity generation also reduce PEC, and the share of renewable energy in the EU has more than doubled since 2005.

According to the data described above, the EU would meet its energy efficiency target of a reduction of 20% when compared to the 2007 Reference Scenario projections for 2020. PEC in 2020 was estimated to be 5.7% below the 2020 target, and FEC 5.4% below. However, Covid-related reductions are likely to be short-lived unless they are backed by structural changes. In the medium and long term, Member States need to make more effort to keep reducing their energy consumption; in particular to ensure the EU meets its current 32.5% target by 2030. The European Commission recently proposed an amendment of the Energy Efficiency Directive with more ambitious targets for 2030: 36% for FEC and 39% for PEC, paving the way for the overall goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

According to Eurostat data, all 27 EU Member States decreased their FEC between 2019 and 2020, with the greatest reductions in Malta, Cyprus and Spain [JE1] [AM2] . All Member States saw a reduction in energy consumption in transport, and 21 did so in the industrial sector. In buildings, FEC levels showed a mixed picture, with consumption in commercial buildings generally decreasing and household consumption varying among countries.

Looking at the longer-term trends, 24 Member States have decreased their FEC since 2005, and all but Poland have decreased their PEC. Reductions have been greatest in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, with both FEC and PEC levels at least 20% lower in 2020 than in 2005.

National target values, and progress towards them, vary greatly among countries. It was reported that 21 Member States met their 2020 targets for FEC, with Romania and Greece meeting the targets by the largest margin. Of the six Member States that did not meet their FEC targets, Lithuania shows the greatest distance to target (19% reduction required compared to 2020 emissions). For PEC, Belgium, Poland and Bulgaria did not meet their 2020 target, although the first two where very close (less than 0.5%).

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