Share of energy consumption from renewable sources in Europe

In 2021, 22% of the energy consumed in the EU was generated from renewable sources, according to EEA early estimates. This is the same as the level observed in 2020, despite the two years being marked by different conditions and consumption patterns. Consumption of renewables increased in absolute terms in 2021, driven by their higher penetration in the heating sector, as well as increased electricity generation from solar power. However, this was eclipsed by slower wind speeds and a rapid rebound of non-renewables after the COVID-19 pandemic. The long-term prospects may still fall short of the current 32% renewable energy target set for 2030. Meeting the recently proposed, new target of 40% would require a deep transformation of the European energy system.

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 share of renewable energy in the EU grew by only 0.1 percentage points, from 22.1% in 2020 to 22.2% in 2021. It should be noted that 2020 was an extraordinary year during which consumption of non-renewables dropped considerably because of lower energy demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, thus pushing up the RES share. In 2021, consumption of non-renewables experienced a rapid rebound, but the growth of renewables remained constant. When looking at absolute values, renewable consumption grew by over 13 million tonnes oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2021, which is the highest annual increase since 2012.

At sectoral level, the largest growth in renewables in 2021 was observed in the heating and cooling sector, reaching a RES share of 23.6%. This was possible thanks to the increased use of biomass and heat pumps. Despite slow wind speeds, the power sector saw a slight increase driven by solar, with renewables representing 37.7% of all electricity generated in 2021. In contrast, the RES share in transport remained largely stagnant at 10.2%. Although more renewables were consumed in transport in absolute terms compared to the previous year, the annual growth of fossil fuels outperformed that of RES.

Looking at the longer-term trends, the RES share more than doubled between 2005 and 2021, driven by dedicated policies and support schemes, as well as increased economic competitiveness. This was equivalent to an average annual increase of 0.75 percentage points over the 16-year period. Over this period, growth has been consistently strong in the power sector and, to a lesser degree, in the heating and cooling sector. Growth in the transport sector has been more volatile.

At the current rate, the prospects of meeting the 32% EU target for 2030 remain uncertain. Furthermore, the European Commission proposed an amendment of the Renewable Energy Directivewith a more ambitious target of 40% by 2030, to pave the way for climate neutrality by 2050. Meeting this revised target will require a deep transformation of the European energy system, encompassing all sectors.

According to EEA early estimates, 16 of the 27 EU Member States saw an increase in their renewable energy shares between 2020 and 2021. Denmark and Estonia topped the list, having increased their share by more than 10 percentage points in 2021. In the case of Denmark, this was largely driven by an increase in the consumption of bioenergy for heating, power generation and transport. In Estonia, growth was more noticeable in solar power and in the heating sector. In contrast, the RES shares of Ireland and Romania decreased by more than 2% compared to 2020. Ireland was the recipient of statistical transfers in 2020, which did not occur in 2021, resulting in a drop in the calculated RES share. In fact, Ireland’s share in 2021 was still higher than in 2019, both years without statistical transfers. In the case of Romania, a drop in the use of renewables in the heating and cooling sector was compounded by a strong overall increase in non-renewables.

Over the long term, Denmark, Estonia and Sweden have experienced the highest growth in RES shares, with more than 20 percentage points since 2005. Romania and Slovenia, on the contrary, have seen an increase of less than 5 percentage points between 2005 and 2021.

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