Transition to renewable energy continues in the European Union (EU) but has lost some pace in the past two years. According to new European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates, renewables accounted for 86 percent of the EU’s new power generation capacity installed in 2016. Overall, EU Member States also continue to cut more capacity from conventional sources than they install.
The EEA report ‘Renewable energy in Europe — 2017 update’ provides an overview of progress in renewable energy in Europe, based on official statistics until 2015 and preliminary estimates for 2016. It is an updated version of the EEA ‘Renewable energy in Europe — 2017 report’ published in March 2017 with the same scope but with final data until 2014 and preliminary estimates for 2015.
The new report complements the Agency’s recent ‘Trends and Projections in Europe 2017 – Tracking progress towards Europe’s climate and energy targets’ assessment.
EU on track towards 2020 renewables target but progress slowing
The updated report confirms that the EU and most Member States remain on track to reach their renewable energy targets, although progress across the EU is losing some pace. The EU’s joint target is to reach 20 percent share of renewable energy in final energy consumption by 2020.
The share of renewables in the EU final energy use increased from 16.1 percent in 2014 to 16.7 percent in 2015, and to an expected 16.9 percent in 2016, according to EEA estimates. The share of renewables grew despite a back-to-back increase in total energy consumption in 2015 and 2016.
Over the period 2005–2014, the share of renewable energy sources in the EU’s gross final energy consumption increased, on average, by 6.7 percent annually. However, in 2015, this growth rate slightly decreased to 6.4 percent, and in 2016 to 5.9 percent, over the entire period.
According to preliminary EEA data, renewable energy accounted for 86 percent of new EU electricity-generating capacity in 2016. Worldwide, the figure was about 62 percent. The EU currently stands as a global leader in renewable power capacity per capita, having outpaced the rest of the world in the past decade in transforming its energy system, the report states.
Substituting coal and fossil gas
Progress in rolling out renewables in the EU since 2005 has lowered the gross inland consumption of fossil fuels by 10 percent and cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 9 percent, compared to a scenario without growth in renewable energy use since 2005. The rapid development of technology and consequent cost reductions have already led to some renewable energy technologies achieving high market shares in Europe.
According to the report, coal was the fuel that was most substituted by renewables across Europe, accounting for roughly half of all avoided fossil fuels and GHG emissions. Natural gas was the second most substituted fuel, accounting for about 30 percent of the total. Switching to renewables has also improved the efficiency in power transformation, thereby reducing the EU’s primary energy consumption by 2 percent, the report notes.
Renewable use varies by country and market sector
The EEA report shows that the share of renewables in final energy consumption varies widely within the EU. It ranges from more than 30 percent in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Latvia and Sweden to less than 9 percent in Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Heating and cooling remain the dominant market sector for renewables in Europe in both absolute and relative terms, followed by electricity generation. In the EU transport sector, renewable energy only made up about 7 percent of all energy use in 2015 and 2016. The bulk of renewable energy use in transport comes from biofuels.
The share of renewable energy jobs per capita in the EU was the fourth highest in the world in 2016, after Brazil, Japan and the United States. The largest employers in the EU renewables sector are the wind, solar and solid biomass industries. The EEA report notes, however, that jobs have been lost in the solar and wind power industry, due to growing competition from other producers, including in China, over the past five years.