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 (for all energy uses) experienced a historical drop following 2 years of moderate reductions. Final energy consumption (by end users) also saw a significant decrease, albeit less pronounced. This contributed to the EU meeting their 2020 energy efficiency targets for both primary and final energy consumption. A rebound must be avoided; and long-term reductions remain necessary to achieve the EU’s energy and climate objectives for 2030 and 2050.

Published: ‒ 25min read

Figure 1. Primary and final energy consumption in the European Union
EU-27Primary energy consumption (PEC)PEC targetsFinal energy consumption (FEC)FEC targets

The EU's final energy consumption (FEC) saw a pronounced decrease of 5% between 2019 and 2020, according to EEA early estimates. The measures adopted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic led to the largest annual drop since 2009, at the height of the financial crisis. In 2020, FEC dropped to 935 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe), the lowest level since the early 90s, and only comparable in recent times to 2014 (939 Mtoe).

The transport sector was the most affected following restrictions on mobility, with an estimated reduction of 12% compared to 2019. This represents a significant break in the trend after 7 consecutive years of increases. As industrial activity declined in 2020, FEC in industry decreased by 5.6% from the previous year. Other sectors (mainly buildings) remained relatively stable.

Primary energy consumption (PEC)1 shows an even more pronounced decrease. Between 2019 and 2020, PEC decreased by 7.7% (four times the reduction of the previous year) to a total of 1,246 Mtoe, the lowest level since full records have been available (1990). Following the previous years' trend, solid fossil fuels saw the largest drop (19%). 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 reduced PEC, while the share of renewable energy in the EU has more than doubled since 2005.

The EEA estimates described above show a historical drop in energy consumption because of Covid-19, coupled with an acceleration in the decarbonisation of the energy system. According to these estimates, the EU would meet its energy efficiency target of a reduction of 20% when compared with the 2007 Reference Scenario projections for 2020. PEC in 2020 was estimated to be 5% below the 2020 target, and FEC 2.4% below. However, Covid-related reductions are likely to be short lived unless backed by structural changes. In the medium and long term, Member States need to make more efforts to keep reducing their energy consumption if the EU is to meet its current 32.5% target by 2030. Furthermore, the European Commission recently proposed an amendment to 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.

Figure 2. Energy consumption of EU Member States and their 2020 targets
Energy consumption of EU Member States and their 2020 targets

According to EEA early estimates, all Member States except Croatia and Hungary decreased their FEC between 2019 and 2020, with Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal having the largest reductions. Twenty-four Member States decreased their energy consumption in both the industry and the transport sectors. FEC in the 'Other' sector (mainly residential and commercial buildings) shows a mixed picture, with generally little variation in 2020 compared to 2019.

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 and Spain, with both FEC and PEC being at least 20% lower in 2020 than in 2005.

Target values, and progress towards them, vary greatly among countries. It is estimated that 20 Member States met their FEC 2020 targets, with Greece and Romania meeting the targets by the largest margin. From the 7 Member States that did not reach the target, Lithuania shows the greatest distance to target (19% reduction required compared to 2020 emissions). For PEC, it is estimated that 3 Member States did not meet the target in 2020, with Belgium furthest from it (3% over the target).

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