Renewable energy in Europe — approximated recent growth and knock-on effects


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Background and policy
To accomplish its transition to a low-carbon society by 2050, the European Union (EU) has adopted a set of intermediate climate and energy targets for 2020 and 2030. The energy sector will face particular challenges in the context of this ambitious transformation process, given the scale of change required in a relatively short period of time.

Renewable energy sources (RES) are important contributors to this transition, being able to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), lower other environmental pressures associated with conventional energy production and overturn the dominance of fossil fuels. Therefore, progress in the deployment of renewables during this decade has profound implications for the future path towards 2050.

This report introduces several methods the European Environment Agency (EEA) has developed for assessing and communicating early RES growth and the important knock-on effects that RES growth has on the energy sector and related areas. The report provides specific information at EU and country level on estimated RES progress in 2013, estimated gross avoided carbon dioxide (CO2) (1) emissions and avoided fossil fuel use due to the additional use of renewable energy since 2005, as well as an assessment of the statistical impacts of growing RES use on primary energy consumption.

Key findings
EEA calculations indicate that the share of gross final consumption of RES increased in all but one Member State in 2013 (2). According to EEA-approximated estimates, the EU-wide share of gross final consumption of renewables continued to increase, from 14.1 % in 2012 to 14.9 % in 2013. In 2013, this progress enabled the EU to meet the 12.1 % indicative target for 2013–2014 in line with the Renewable Energy Directive, as well as the 13.7 % expected EU-wide share for gross final renewable energy consumption in line with the National Renewable Energy Action Plans adopted by countries.

In 2013, the renewable heating and cooling market sector retained its dominance in the gross final
consumption of all renewables in the EU. However, the renewable electricity sector grew faster and contributed
the most to absolute growth in renewables use across all EU countries. By contrast, the use of RES in transport
contracted in 2013 in about half of all Member States and also at EU level.

The increasing deployment of RES has positive impacts in a number of key areas such as climate change mitigation, energy security and energy efficiency.

Without the deployment of renewable energy since 2005, GHG emissions in 2012 could have been 7 % higher than actual emissions. The increase in renewable energy use since 2005 resulted in approximately 326 Mton of gross avoided CO2 emissions at EU level in 2012, and 388 Mton in 2013, with most of these effects relating to sectors covered under the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

By reducing the demand for imported fossil fuels renewable technologies also increase energy security. Without the additional use of renewable energy since 2005, the EU's consumption of fossil fuels would have been about 7 % higher in 2012. Coal was the fuel most substituted by renewables across Europe (13 %). The substitution of natural gas (7 %) is especially relevant in the current geopolitical context and considering the decline of domestic gas resources, while the reduction of oil and related fuels was less pronounced, to some extent, given the lesser share of renewable energy use in transport.

The EU's primary energy consumption has been decreasing almost constantly since 2005. The increasing consumption of renewables in Europe is one factor that has gradually driven down the accounting of EU primary energy consumption. The substitution effect resulting from the additional use of renewables since 2005 resulted in an estimated 2 % reduction in EU-wide primary energy consumption in the year 2012.

Fossil fuels continue to dominate the energy mix in most Member States as well as across the EU, giving rise to climate change, air pollution and other environmental pressures. Today, renewable energy is already a significant option for climate change mitigation and reduction of (often imported) fossil fuels. In line with adopted, binding EU targets, RES are expected to increase to 20 % of gross final EU energy consumption by 2020, increasing to a minimum of 27 % by 2030. For the EU to meet its ambitious decarbonisation targets, RES need to increase to between 55 % to 75 % or more of gross final EU energy consumption by mid-century, according to the European Commission's Energy Roadmap 2050 (EC, 2011b). It is therefore important for Member States and the EU to increase the focus on this growing sector, so as to find the best possible means of leveraging the social, economic and environmental benefits it can provide.

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