Primary and final energy consumption in Europe (8th EAP)

In 2021, both the EU’s primary energy consumption (which includes all energy uses) and the final energy consumption (by end users) experienced a significant rebound from the extraordinary drop observed in 2020. Energy consumption increased across all sectors and energy sources, most notably for the transport sector and for solid fuels, respectively. Despite this increase, both primary and final energy consumption remained below pre-pandemic levels. If the average pace of reduction seen since 2005 continues, it is unlikely the EU will meet its targets for 2030. It is, however,early to conclude since new targets were agreed in spring 2023 and countries have not yet established the measures required to meet them.

Published: ‒ 25min read

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 pollutants and enhances energy security.

In March 2023, EU co-legislators reached an agreement to set a binding target of 763 Mtoe for final energy consumption (FEC), and an indicative target of 993 Mtoe for primary energy consumption (PEC) to be achieved by 2030. FEC represents the energy used by final consumers. PEC represents the total energy demand within a country, including losses.

According to Eurostat energy balances, after an extraordinary drop in energy consumption in Europe in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU’s final energy consumption grew sharply by 6.9% between 2020 and 2021. The increase can be largely attributed to the economic recovery and lifting of pandemic restrictions (EEA, 2022). Despite this increase, the absolute FEC level reached in 2021 (968 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe)) was still below pre-pandemic levels.

In 2021, the transport sector experienced a 9% annual growth in FEC after Covid-19-related mobility restrictions were lifted. Industrial activity also grew, increasing FEC by 4%. Aided by cold weather, the most significant rise in energy consumption occurred in buildings, with a notable 6% increase that surpassed the previous year's drop, returning FEC in this sector to 2013 levels.

Between 2020 and 2021, PEC grew by a historical 6.1% to a total of 1,311Mtoe, with the highest growth reported for solid fossil fuels and nuclear energy. As for FEC, the absolute PEC level reached in 2021 was still below pre-pandemic levels (Eurostat, 2023).

Looking at the full time-series, reductions since 2005 have been more pronounced for PEC (-12%) than for FEC (-7%). The replacement of fossil fuels by renewables in electricity generation typically reduces PEC, 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.

Past trends and official modelling exercises do not yet capture the recent geopolitical developments and the latest policy developments in Europe, making it difficult to assess the likelihood of achieving these targets at the moment of writing this assessment. Nevertheless, the new targets imply a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -2.61% for the remaining period of 2021-2030, which is seven times the CAGR observed since 2005. As such, it seems unlikely that the EU will meet its targets unless a deep and fast transformation of the energy sector gains speed during this decade.

Nineteen Member States saw a strong (>5%) increase in FEC between 2020 and 2021, with Slovakia, France and Italy displaying the largest increases. No country experienced any reduction in FEC in 2021, although Ireland, Estonia, Sweden and Germany kept their increase below 3%. PEC also increased in all Member States, with Belgium and Italy experiencing the highest increase. Portugal was the only country to keep PEC at the same level as 2020 thanks to a reduction in its use of coal and natural gas and an increase in electricity from renewables.

Over the full time series, 18 Member States decreased their FEC between 2005 and 2021, with Greece and Spain achieving the highest reductions. Twenty-six Member States decreased their PEC during the same time period, with Greece again the experiencing the largest decrease followed by Portugal. Latvia’s PEC has remained roughly at the same level as in 2005, and Poland is the only country to experience an increase. 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.

Supporting information


References and footnotes