Primary and final energy consumption in Europe

In 2021, the EU’s primary energy consumption (which includes all energy uses) and final energy consumption (by end users) experienced a significant rebound from the extraordinary drop observed in 2020, according to EEA early estimates. 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. At the rate of reduction seen since 2005, the EU would not meet the existing targets for 2030.

Published: ‒ 25min read

After an extraordinary drop in energy consumption in Europe in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU’s final energy consumption (FEC) grew by 5% between 2020 and 2021, according to EEA early estimates. This represents the highest annual increase since full records are available (1990). The increase can be largely attributed to the economic recovery and lifting of pandemic restrictions. Despite this increase, the absolute FEC level reached in 2021 (952 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe)) was still below pre-pandemic levels.

The transport sector showed the strongest annual growth in 2021 following the lifting of restrictions on mobility, with a reported increase of 6.7% in final energy consumption compared to 2020. As industrial activity recovered in 2021, FEC in industry also grew — by 3.3% from the previous year. However, the most remarkable rebound was observed in buildings, aided by particularly cold weather. The estimated 4.8% increase in energy consumption of buildings in 2021 largely surpassed the drop in 2020 (-2.5%), taking FEC in this sector back to 2017 levels.

Primary energy consumption (PEC) showed an even more pronounced increase in 2021. Estimates indicate that, between 2020 and 2021, PEC grew by a record 5.6% to a total of 1,306Mtoe. The estimated increase affected all energy sources, although it was highest for solid fossil fuels and nuclear energy, perhaps in response to the high gas prices observed in the second half of 2021. As for FEC, the absolute PEC level reached in 2021 was still under pre-pandemic levels and was the second lowest on records.

Looking at the longer-term trends, reductions since 2005 have been more pronounced for PEC (-13%) than for FEC (-9%). The replacement of fossil fuels by renewables in electricity generation often reduces PEC, and the share of renewable energy in the EU has more than doubled since 2005. Other factors have influenced energy demand in Europe, such as energy saving measures, transformation improvements, economic activity and a changing climate.

Since 2005, FEC and PEC have decreased by an average of 0.5 and 0.8 percentage points, respectively, on an annual basis. At these rates, the EU is unlikely to meet its 2030 energy efficiency target of a reduction of 32.5% for both FEC and PEC, compared to projections of expected energy use in 2030. The European Commission has 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 EEA early estimates, 20 Member States saw a significant (>1%) increase in FEC between 2020 and 2021, with the largest increases in Italy, France and Belgium. Only 7 Member States saw their FEC remain stagnant during 2021, with no country experiencing a noticeable reduction. PEC also increased in all but three Member States, with Belgium and Italy experiencing the largest increase. Greece was the only country to see a significant reduction in PEC in 2021, driven by a reduction in electricity imports and coal consumption.

In the long-term, 23 Member States have decreased their FEC between 2005 and 2021, with Greece and Spain achieving the largest reductions. Twenty-six Member States have decreased their PEC during the same time period, with Greece again the highest achiever, followed by Portugal. Latvia’s PEC has remained relatively unchanged since 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 almost tripling the consumption of renewable energy.

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