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20% renewables by 2020?

Renewable energy is growing across the EU – but national take-up varies from 5-30%
Wind farm under construction on coast England

Wind, solar and other renewable energy sources are on the rise across the European Union, but take-up varies wildly between member states.

These are the findings of a new report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA), which concludes that growth in renewables continues to bolster climate change mitigation in the EU by driving down greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, transport and heating and cooling buildings.

On course to meet targets

Renewables made up 15% of the EU’s energy mix in 2013 and 16% in 2014. The upward trend continued in 2015, when renewable energy accounted for the majority (77%) of new electricity-generating capacity for the eighth year in a row.

Recent data from Eurostat reveal that EU-wide renewable energy use finally reached 16.7% in 2015 – which is close to the EEA’s 16.4% preliminary estimate published in December 2016. This steady EU-wide progress in renewables since 2005 means the EU is on course to reach its target of 20% by 2020.

But at member state level, the share of renewable energy use continues to vary widely, ranging from over 30% in Finland, Latvia and Sweden to 5% or less in Luxembourg and Malta.

Au revoir coal

The uptake of renewable energy since 2005 allowed the EU to cut its fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by about a tenth in 2015 – comparable with the annual fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions of Italy.

Three-quarters of these greenhouse gas reductions attributable to renewables came from the development of renewable electricity production. Coal was the most substituted fuel across Europe, representing about one half of all avoided fossil fuels, followed by natural gas (28% of all avoided fossil fuels).

In both 2014 and 2015, the largest reductions in fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions due to the uptake of renewable energy sources took place in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Renewables worldwide

Global investments in renewables have grown steadily over the past decade – and as a result global renewable electricity capacity doubled between 2005 and 2015.

The EU plays a leading role in developing clean energy technology and is ranked second after China in installed and grid-connected domestic renewable electricity capacity.

Still, some non-EU countries are seeing faster progress, reflected in the share of renewable energy related jobs in the labour force. In 2015 the EU was overtaken by other countries, including Japan and China.

The EU and its member states will need to step up their climate and energy efforts if they want to meet EU ambitions to become a sustainable, low-carbon economy by 2050, the report concludes.

Key challenges remain, including the formulation of adequate policies that deliver targets, agreeing on an EU monitoring system and improving innovation capabilities to reap the full benefits of the energy transition in Europe.

Click here to read the report, ‘Renewable energy in Europe 2017: recent growth and knock-on effects’.

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