Where does the EU-28 stand in its energy transition? Eurostat 2016 update

At the beginning of 2018, Eurostat released its annual publication on the state of the EU-28 energy-mix, presenting the perfect opportunity to check where the European Union stands in its energy transition and compare political ambition with actual figures. While the general trend remains positive in the move towards more renewables, in 2016, some indicators went red in the meantime.

The EU aims to have a 20% share of its gross final energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2020. This target is distributed between EU Member States with national action plans designed to plot a pathway for the development of renewable energies in each of the Member States. The share of renewables in gross final energy consumption stood at 17% in the EU-28 in 2016, compared to 16,6% in 2015. However, putting these general figures into perspective tells another story. The growth of renewables between 2015-2016 was 4,1%, almost 1 percentage point below the average growth recorded over the last decade (5,0%). At the same time, fossil fuel consumption saw a historic revival with an increase of 1,45%, while the average trend over the past 10 years was negative (-1,40%). In absolute numbers, renewable energy consumption grew by 7.763 ktoe while fossil fuel consumption increased by 13.635 ktoe, almost double that of renewables. These figures show the frailty of the European energy transition, during a period of growing energy demand, as was the case in 2016 (+1,9%). Renewables are not always considered as the logical option. Considered from a political perspective, this highlights importance of a strong and ambitious Clean Energy Package with binding targets for the period 2020-2030.

Looking at national levels, contrasting situations can also be observed. With more than half (53,9 %) of energy from renewable sources in its gross final consumption of energy, in 2016 Sweden had by far the highest share among the EU Member States, ahead of Finland (38,7%), Latvia (37,2 %), Austria (33,5 %) and Denmark (32,2 %). It is interesting to note that this top 5 consists of countries that all rely on a strong forestry sector and dynamic bioenergy industry. At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest proportions of renewables were registered in Luxembourg (5,4 %), Malta and the Netherlands (both 6%), Belgium (8,7 %) and the United Kingdom and Cyprus (both at 9,3 %). Compared with the most recent data available for 2016, the targets for France, the Netherlands and Ireland require each of these Member States to increase their share of renewable energy in final energy consumption by at least 6 percentage points. By contrast, eleven of the Member States had already surpassed their target for 2020; the extent to which the targets have been exceeded was particularly large in Croatia, Sweden and Estonia.

Breaking down the different energy segments, electricity [1] keeps steady concerning the global consumption with a rise of 0,7 % (2.048 ktoe). This sector is the only one succeeding in reducing its use of fossil fuels with a slight decrease of 729 ktoe (-0,4%) while increasing the renewables by 2.777 ktoe (+3,5%). The growth is, by far, led by the wind sector (+2.234 ktoe or 9,1%), followed by solar (+249 ktoe or 2.7%) and solid biomass fuels (+61 ktoe or 0,8% – now stagnating compared to the annual increase of 6,8% from the last 10 years). In the end, RES accounts for more than 29% of the total electricity production of the EU-28. It is interesting to note that this overall trend in electricity generation proposed by Eurostat has been reinforced by the release of another publication last week from London-based Sandbag and Berlin-based Agora Energiewende think tanks, proposing data for the period 2016-2017. The report, claimed that the “biomass boom” was over after the sector’s growth plateaued. On another note, the report said generation from wind, solar and biomass rose by 12% in 2017 to 679TWh, putting output from these sources above coal generation for the first time.

The figures for solid biomass fuels are undoubtedly better when compared to the most energy-consuming sector, heating, where it accounts for about 85% of renewable heat. According to Eurostat, between 2015-2016, the final total heat consumption has raised by 10.834 ktoe (+2,1%) from which more than 3.992 ktoe came from renewables, the biggest increase between energy sectors. Unfortunately, from the total increase in consumption, 60% was driven by fossil fuels, tainting the picture and showing the need for ambitious renewable heating and cooling targets for the period 2020-2030. Only 19% of the heat consumed in the EU-28 came from RES.

Considering Europe’s renewable shift, the transport sector is still the biggest challenge ahead, lagging far behind the other sectors and currently lacking serious concrete alternatives to substitute petroleum products on a large scale. Only 4,41% (without EU multipliers’ rule) comes from renewable biofuels (+958 ktoe) and 0,6% from renewable electricity (+143 ktoe). Fossil fuels remain uncontested leaders, representing 95% of the share. The transport sector consumption raised by 2,23% (+6620 ktoe) 83% coming from fossil fuels.

Thomas Gailliez
Market Intelligence Officer

Jean-Baptiste Boucher
Communications Director

[1] Wind hydro and solar normalised