The share of renewable sources in Europe’s energy mix is rising. However, huge disparities between member states means that progress is too patchy, threatening the EU’s environmental commitments.
The good news first.
The share of renewable energy continues to grow. It accounted for 18% of Europe’s final energy consumption in 2018, according to the latest Eurostat data. A steady increase over the years mean that the proportion of renewables has more than doubled since 2004, with wind power being the single largest source of renewable electricity generation.
Recent developments across Europe confirm this positive trend. In the first half of 2019, and for the second consecutive year, European renewables produced more power than gas, brown coal, oil and peat combined. In March 2019, Portugal met 100% of its energy needs thanks to hydro and wind power alone.
Now, here comes the bad news.
Progress seems to be too slow and fragmented, to the extent that the EU may end up missing its target of 20% renewables by the end of 2020. Figures from last year show that renewables only increased by 0.5% between 2017 and 2018.
The problem is that many EU countries still rely heavily on fossil fuels, experts have argued. While the share of energy from renewable sources was over 50% in Sweden in 2018, it was still 10% or less in countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands.
So far, only 13 EU countries have reached or gone beyond the EU target of 20%. The other 15 countries, including the UK, are still lagging behind.
“What Europe as a whole is lacking is not wind or sun, but sufficient investments in energy networks and infrastructure that can transport and store high quantities of renewable energy,” said Jonathan Bonadio, an energy expert at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “We must invest in modern interconnection and local, smart grids now if we want to boost renewable energy exponentially in the coming decades,” he added.
Cooling down Europe’s heating sector
The most notable uptake of renewable energy was reported in the heating and cooling sector.
Almost 20% of the energy used to heat our buildings and produce hot water in 2018 came from renewable sources, up from 10.4% in 2004.
Experts argue that the full decarbonisation of heating must be a priority in the transition to a carbon-neutral Europe. Today, the sector is responsible for half of the EU’s annual energy consumption and a third of its CO2 emissions.
Heat pumps are amongst the most common technologies available to produce renewable energy for our homes. They can run efficiently on geothermal, solar and wind power, keeping the heat in storage tanks and generating electricity for the house when it’s needed – even when sources of renewable energy are not dispatchable.
Currently, heat pumps are present in fewer than 10% of all buildings, but the market is growing rapidly. The EU stock delivered 164 TWh of final energy savings and produced 128 TWh of renewable energy in 2018, which resulted in 32.8 Mt of CO2 emissions saved – the equivalent of the combined emissions of Cyprus, Latvia and Luxembourg in 2017.