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Blog

EU Renewable Energy Scorecard Details Mixed Results

May 29, 2015
Author: John Greene

According to a recently published report from Eurostat, three European Union member countries have already exceeded their individual 2020 renewable energy goals. Sweden, Bulgaria and Estonia have not only won the race to the 2020 finish line seven years ahead of schedule, but they have surpassed their individual country objectives. The broad basis of the goals is to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (compared to 1990 levels) and increase renewable energy production by 20%. While economic, geographic and political disparities (as well as a number of other intricate differences) exist between member countries, the EU as a whole has made substantial progress integrating renewable resources into its energy portfolio, and is on target to meet the goals it has established for itself by 2020.

As the Eurostat report notes, the total EU share of energy created from renewable sources increased to 15 percent in 2013 compared to 8.3 percent in 2004 (the first full year of available data), which equates to an 80 percent increase in just nine years. Given the expense and complications involved with such large-scale conversions to renewable sources, EU member countries have demonstrated a high level of commitment to the mission and have largely been successful at implementing new technologies.

EU

Individual EU targets for 2020 are based on member countries’ gross final energy production from renewable sources. Sweden’s 2020 target is 49 percent and the country generated 52.1 percent in 2013, beating its original target by 6 percent with plenty of time to go. Interestingly, Sweden only lags behind its neighbor to the east, Norway, in renewable energy production. Norway (not an EU member country) had a 2013 gross final energy production from renewables of 65.5 percent.

Bulgaria posted a 2013 renewable energy production level of 19 percent, beating its 2020 target of 16 percent, and Estonia posted a level of 25.5 percent, beating its 2020 target of 25 percent. Other countries that have met—or are very close to meeting—their goals based on 2013 data include:

  • Lithuania – 23% target; 23% actual production

  • Romania – 24% target; 23.9% actual production

  • Italy – 17% target; 16.3% actual production

  • Czech Republic – 13% target; 12.4% actual production

For renewables as a percentage of gross final energy production, other standout EU member countries include:

  • Latvia: 37.1%

  • Finland: 36.8%

  • Austria: 32.6%

As the Eurostat report also details, several member countries are woefully behind schedule and are facing substantial challenges (and limited timeframes) if they are to meet their individual targets by 2020:

  • Luxembourg – 11% target; 3.6% actual production

  • Malta – 10% target; 3.8% actual production

  • Netherlands – 14% target; 4.5% actual production

  • United Kingdom – 15% target; 5.1% actual production

Based on the rate that the UK is consuming wood pellets, which we have reported on in the past, it seems surprising that they are only at 34 percent of their 2020 renewables goal. While large-scale British utilities such as Drax Power continue to convert from coal to renewable sources for thermal energy production, their demand for wood pellets has skyrocketed. Of the 4.4 million short tons of US wood pellets exported during 2014, 73 percent or 3.2 million short tons were shipped to the UK for use in electricity generation.

But a 2014 Forbes report noted that the UK has cooled on certain renewables sectors due to costs and other challenges. For example, interest in offshore wind technology—once a popular concept for the Scottish coastline, which is indeed windy—has been scrapped by major utilities due to “infeasibility.” Rather, there is growing interest in nuclear energy and the UK has approved construction of two new reactors that will provide 7 percent of its total electricity.

When the EU collectively reaches its 20% goal, which may well be before the 2020 deadline, what’s next? The European Commission has outlined less ambitious goals post-2020 that include a total 27 percent (also compared to 1990 levels) energy production from renewable sources, as well as a 40% decrease in greenhouse gases by 2030.

While individual EU member countries may be turning their attention towards nuclear energy (France currently produces roughly 80 percent of its energy from nuclear sources), renewables will continue to grow within Europe. As mentioned earlier, the economic, geographic and political differences between member countries make the implementation of wholesale energy strategies virtually impossible. But Sweden, Bulgaria, and Estonia are demonstrating that renewable sources can be integrated into existing infrastructures and, based upon their successes, indeed offer viable energy alternatives for the EU going forward.

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