Share of energy consumption from renewable sources in Europe

With a 22.1% share of energy consumed from renewable sources in 2020, the EU reached its headline target (20%) for 2020, according to data from Eurostat. This success builds upon years of consistent work by all Member States, even if national progress is uneven. The exceptional circumstances of 2020, marked by disruptions in all economic sectors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, have aided the achievement of the renewable energy target by lowering total energy consumption. An unprecedented transformation in the energy system will still be necessary to meet the current 32% renewable energy target set for 2030.

Published: ‒ 25min read

An increase in the use of renewable energy has multiple benefits for society such as mitigating climate change, reducing the emission of air pollutants and improving energy security. The EU had set the goal of ensuring that 20% of its gross final energy consumption came from renewable sources by 2020, increasing to 32% by 2030.

The EU met its 2020 target, with renewable energy consumption increasing from 19.9% of gross final energy consumption in 2019 to 22.1% in 2020. This was driven by sustained growth in electricity generation from renewable energy sources (RESs), increasing from 34.1% to 37.5% in 2020. The share of renewable energy in transport and buildings (heating and cooling) also increased in the same period, albeit at a lower rate.

Since the RES share depends on the magnitude of the total, it is relevant to note that total gross final energy consumption decreased substantially between 2019 and 2020 (-8%) due to the impact of measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Electricity generation from RESs was often prioritised because of lower operational costs and preferential dispatch.

Looking at the longer-term trends, the RES share more than doubled between 2005 and 2020, driven by dedicated policies and support schemes, as well as increased economic competitiveness. This was equivalent to an average annual increase of 0.8 percentage points over the 15-year period. The increase seen in 2020 (of 2.2 percentage points) was the largest in the full time series.

Despite the EU having met its 2020 target, sustained action remains necessary. COVID-related impacts are likely to be short lived unless backed by structural changes, and an unprecedented transformation is needed to meet the 32% 2030 target. Furthermore, the European Commission recently proposed an amendment of the Renewable Energy Directive with a more ambitious target of 40% by 2030, paving the way for carbon neutrality by 2050.

According to data from Eurostat, all but two of the 27 EU Member States saw an increase in their renewable energy shares between 2019 and 2020. The Netherlands and Luxembourg topped the list, having increased their renewable energy share by more than 4.5 percentage points in 2020. However, these two countries are among those that received statistical transfers from other Member States such as Denmark and Estonia which, in turn, show a significant decrease in their share compared to 2019. Excluding statistical transfers, all Member States experienced an increase in their RES share in 2020, with Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus seeing the greatest increase in the RES share (over 3 percentage points).

To achieve the EU’s 20% renewable energy target for 2020, each country must work towards its own national target. According to data from Eurostat, all Member States excpet France reached their 2020 targets, as did Iceland and Norway. France was 3.9 percentage points away from meeting its 2020 target. The RES shares for the Netherlands, Belgium and Slovena were within 0.01 percentage points of their respective targets and were achieved by statistical transfers.

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