Share of energy consumption from renewable sources in Europe (8th EAP)

In 2021, 22% of the energy consumed in the EU was generated from renewable sources, roughly the same level as in 2020. Consumption of renewables increased in absolute terms in 2021, driven by their expanded use in the heating sector, as well as increased electricity generation from solar and wind power. However, these gains were eclipsed by a rapid rebound of non-renewables after the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of renewables is expected to keep growing. However, meeting the recently agreed new target of 42.5% for 2030 will mean tripling the rate of deployment of renewables seen in the past decade, and requires a deep transformation of the European energy system.

Published: ‒ 25min read

An increase in the use of renewable energy sources (RES) has diverse benefits for society such as mitigating climate change, reducing the emission of air pollutants and improving energy security. The EU met its goal of 20% of its gross final energy consumption coming from renewable sources by 2020. Looking forwards, a political agreement was recently reached to increase the binding 2030 target from the existing 32% to 42.5%. Each Member State will contribute to this common target.

At 22%, the share of renewable energy in the EU remained at a similar level between 2020 and 2021. It should be noted that 2020 was an extraordinary year during which consumption of non-renewables dropped considerably with lower energy demand during the Covid-19 pandemic, thus pushing up the relative share of renewables. In 2021, consumption of non-renewables experienced a rapid rebound linked to the post-pandemic recovery. However, the growth of renewables was still below pre-pandemic levels. When looking at absolute values, renewable consumption grew by over 11 million tonnes oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2021, which is the highest annual growth since 2012.

The greatest penetration of renewables occurred in the power sector, where they represented 37.6% of all electricity generated in the EU in 2021. This is followed by the heating and cooling sector with a RES share of 22.9%. The RES share in transport was 9.1%.

Among renewable energy sources, the largest by far is solid biomass, which is widely used in heating and industry, and represented 41% of all the renewable energy supply in Europe in 2021. It was followed by wind (13%), hydropower (12%), liquid biofuels (8%) and biogas (6%). Heat pumps and solar photovoltaics each represented less than 6% of all renewables. However, they are the fastest growing sources, having increased by more than 13% between 2020 and 2021.

Looking at the longer-term trends, the RES share more than doubled between 2005 and 2021. This was driven by dedicated policies and support schemes, as well as the increased economic competitiveness of renewable energy sources. The increase represents an average annual increase of 0.75 percentage points over the 16-year period.

In March 2023, the EU agreed on a renewable energy target of 42.5% RES share by 2030. Modelling from the IEA and Ember indicate that reaching the target might be feasible if fast and decisive action is taken. However, reaching the target will require a challenging annual increase of 2.4 percentage points every year until 2030, which is triple the historical rate. It is, therefore, unlikely that the EU will meet its target unless a deep transformation of the European energy system takes place within this decade, encompassing all sectors.

Figure 2 shows that Sweden, Finland and Latvia were the Member States with the highest RES share in 2021. The three countries have a strong hydropower industry and wide use of solid biofuels. Luxembourg and Malta reported the lowest penetration of renewables, representing less than 12% of their total energy consumption.

Over the long term, Denmark, Estonia and Sweden have experienced the highest growth in RES shares, at more than 18 percentage points since 2005. Romania and Slovenia, on the contrary, have seen an increase of less than 6 percentage points between 2005 and 2021.

Fifteen of the 27 EU Member States saw an increase in their renewable energy shares between 2020 and 2021. Estonia and Denmark topped the list, having increased their RES share by more than 3 percentage points in 2021. In contrast, the RES shares of Bulgaria and Ireland decreased by more than 3 percentage points compared to 2020. It should be noted, however, that the changes for these four countries is largely due to methodological and accounting procedures (e.g. statistical transfer of renewable energy between countries), rather than actual changes in the consumption of renewables.

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