Energy — energy consumption and share of renewable energy

Briefing Published 18 Feb 2015 Last modified 11 May 2020
8 min read
Photo: © Ciobanu Florentin/EEA

There was a small overall increase in gross inland energy consumption (GIEC) from 1990 to 2012, however national trends varied significantly with consumption increasing in 20 and decreasing in 13 countries.

From 1990 to 2012 there was an increase in the share of renewable energy in GIEC in 32 out of 34 countries.

There has been progress in energy efficiency policy but there is significant variation in the level of ambition and coherence of policy measures amongst countries.

Setting the scene

Energy production and use causes numerous environmental and health impacts. Today, fossil fuels continue to dominate the energy mix in Europe, contributing to climate change and air pollution. This highlights the need to rethink energy systems and move quickly to a low carbon economy and society.

The SOER 2015 briefing on energy provides an overview of the status, trends and prospects relating to energy production and use at a European level. This SOER 2015 cross-country comparison focuses on GIEC and the contribution of renewable energy.

About the indicator

Partly as a result of numerous policy and reporting frameworks at national, European and international levels, a variety of measures and definitions are used to quantify energy generation and use. European Environment Agency (EEA) indicators provide information on primary energy consumption, GIEC, final energy consumption and gross final energy consumption.[1]

The indicator 'GIEC by fuel' measures the quantity of energy consumed within the national territory of a country by fuel type and it is expressed in tonnes of oil equivalents. It is regularly published as part of Eurostat energy statistics and has a high comparability amongst countries and over time.

Policies, targets and progress

Energy is an important policy priority. As part of the Europe 2020 Strategy,[2] the EU has committed that by 2020, it will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels; increase the share of renewable energy sources to 20% of gross final energy consumption; and increase energy efficiency by cutting primary energy use by 20%.[3]

Transposing European energy policy frameworks into effective national legislation is not without challenges. National policy frameworks are evolving across Europe with debates at local, national and European level on how to achieve the transition towards a low-carbon and energy-efficient future.[4]

The EEA has published climate and energy profiles for each EEA member country. The profiles provide information on energy demand and on progress towards meeting targets for renewable energy and for energy efficiency.[5] The profiles also provide information on national targets, policies and measures for both renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Figure 1: Gross inland energy consumption in 34 European countries (1990, 2005 and 2012)

Changes in the fuel mix used to generate energy have an important influence on environmental impacts. Although consumption of solid fuels (coal and lignite) and oil have declined since 1990, consumption of coal has increased again in recent years. The overall share of renewable energy sources in GIEC more than doubled between 1990 and 2012. However, there was substantial variation amongst countries in how the fuel mix changed over this period.

Between 1990 and 2012, there was an increase in the absolute quantity of renewable energy contributing to GIEC in all countries except Serbia. The percentage share also increased between 1990 and 2012 in all countries except Turkey (–8.3%) and Norway (–7.5%), with the largest percentage increases recorded in Latvia (23.2%), Iceland (22.9%) and Denmark (17.6%) (see Figure 2). 

Developments concerning renewable energy should be considered in the context of very different national baselines against which change has been measured. Norway started from a relatively high baseline, and from 1990 to 2012 it had the second highest share of renewable energies in the fuel mix.

Figure 2: Percentage share of renewable energies in gross inland energy consumption in 34 European countries (1990, 2005 and 2012)


Reducing energy consumption, improving energy efficiency, and increasing the share of renewable energy are the main ways that European countries are responding to the challenges of reducing GHG emissions, improving energy security, improving resource efficiency, and reducing exposure to the volatility of fossil-fuel prices on the world market. However, in many countries, the economic crisis has led to a reduction in the resources available for activities such as the enforcement of standards in the building sector, or for financial assistance for energy efficiency measures and renewable energy.

The EU will meet its 20-20-20 commitments on GHG emissions and renewables. Although it may just fall short of its commitment to cut primary energy use by 20% by 2020, particularly if the reductions in energy use resulting from the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent recessions are not sustained.

The majority of countries are making progress in terms of increasing the share of renewables. The target to increase the share of renewable energy sources to 20% is based on gross final energy consumption rather than GIEC. The EEA has published an assessment of the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption in EEA member countries along with an indication of progress towards national targets (where applicable).[4] In 2012, only three countries had not reached the indicative trajectories for meeting renewable energy targets (France, Malta and the Netherlands).[4] According to national forecasts 23 EU Member States expect to meet their binding 2020 renewables target on their own without having to use statistical transfers or other cooperation mechanisms provided by the Renewable Energy Directive.[6]

Countries have selected different approaches when setting their national target to reduce primary energy use by 20% by 2020. Some focus on primary energy consumption, others on final energy consumption or primary energy intensity.[1] Different modelling frameworks and assumptions have also been used along with the adoption of a range of different base years against which progress will be measured.

As each national target reflects specific national circumstances, this has led to different ambitions, with countries aiming for either a reduction in energy consumption, stabilisation, or a cap on how much energy consumption can increase relative to a baseline year. Targets are also under revision in some countries, with a range of national policy developments underway that will impact on the final target. The EEA has published a study comparing the situation in 2011 to national targets. [5]

While there has been a lot of progress in energy efficiency policy, there is significant variation between countries in the level of ambition and coherence of their policy measures and how they implement and monitor their policies. Some have developed a well-balanced package of measures across different sectors whereas others do very little beyond the minimum required by EU directives. The EEA has made an overall assessment of EU Member States' progress towards improving energy efficiency.[4] As further improvements are required in the majority of countries, some examples of good practice in energy efficiency are highlighted below.

Denmark provides a positive example in terms of creating an overall support framework characterised by strong links between national and regional strategies, good coordination, transparency, information and education activities, and involvement of regional and local authorities in the policy framework.

Significant progress has been observed in most countries in the public and building sectors and in setting up appropriate governance structures for energy efficiency, such as energy agencies. Finland and Belgium are examples of good practice in the public sector, with Finland developing a coherent sectoral strategy and Belgium implementing measures so the public sector can act as a role model. Germany and France provide examples of good practice in relation to the building sector. France has taken a leading role in enforcement, while Germany has led in relation to information, financing and setting up a governance framework.

For energy policy more broadly, good practice concerning education, capacity building and energy audits are found in Austria, Estonia and Finland. Bulgaria represents a good example for setting targets for individual companies and Sweden is a good example in setting targets for energy-intensive industries.

Improving energy efficiency and increasing renewable energy will not only reduce GHG emissions and improve air quality, but also contribute to a reduction in environmental pressures and impacts in areas such as human health, water, biodiversity, resource use, and land use. Integrated planning of renewable energy projects and infrastructures with sharing of best practice amongst countries will be essential to improving deployment of renewable energy sources and enhancing public support for these projects.

Countries' perspectives

References and footnotes

[1] Definitions: primary energy consumption in the context of the Energy Efficiency Directive is GIEC minus non-energy use. Final energy consumption means all energy supplied to industry, transport, households, services and agriculture. It excludes deliveries to the energy transformation sector and the energy industries themselves. Gross final energy consumption is understood as the energy commodities delivered for energy purposes to industry, transport, households, services, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. This includes the consumption of electricity and heat by the energy branch for electricity and heat production, as well as losses of electricity and heat in distribution and transmission processes. Primary energy intensity is the ratio between GIEC and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculated for a calendar year.

[2] EC (2010), Europe 2020 — A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

[3] The target to increase energy efficiency by 20% is measured against a baseline scenario with an EU target of 1 483 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) primary energy consumption. Member States have adopted different baseline years against which progress on energy efficiency will be measured (see [4] for further details).

[4] EEA (2014), Trends and projections in Europe 2014. Tracking progress towards Europe's climate and energy targets until 2020, EEA Report No 6/2014, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

[5] EEA (2013), Climate and energy country profiles — Key facts and figures for EEA member countries, EEA Technical report No 17/2013, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

[6] EU (2009), Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources and amending and subsequently repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC, OJ L 140/16.


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