Renewable energy will play a fundamental role in achieving the EU’s energy and climate objectives. Not only is it abundantly available within the EU, but it is also cost-competitive with fossil fuels. As such, it can help make our energy systems more affordable and reduce the EU’s dependency on imported fossil fuels. It also has the potential to provide a range of new jobs, create new industrial opportunities and contribute to economic growth.
Renewable energy progress over time
As a technology, renewable energy is not new, and it has a strong foothold in Europe.
Already in 1991, Denmark installed the world’s first offshore wind farm “Vindeby” which included 11 wind turbines. Germany introduced, in the same year, Europe’s first ‘feed-in-tariff’ for renewables; a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies.
By 2000, Europe accounted for more than 70% of all wind power installed in the world and 20% of global solar photovoltaics installations. In 2000 the world’s first large-scale wind farm ‘Horns Rev’ saw the light – also this time in Denmark. It used many technologies that later became industry standards for offshore wind.
Europe also became the largest market for solar photovoltaics by covering more than 70% of the market by 2008.
Across the EU, the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption has increased over recent years from 9.6% in 2004 to 18.9% in 2018. The five EU countries with the largest share of their energy coming from renewable energy sources (based on 2018 data from Eurostat) are Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Denmark and Austria.
EU law on renewable energy
When the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) established national targets for EU member countries, it was seen as a “novelty act”. Today, 173 countries in the world have such targets.
The 2009 directive was revised in December 2018, and adopted as part of the Clean energy for all Europeans package. It includes a new binding renewable energy target for 2030 of at least 32%, with a clause for a possible upwards revision by 2023.
Driving the ambition further, the European Green Deal outlines a number of initiatives across all policy sectors, aimed at making EU climate neutral by 2050. Renewable energy, together with energy efficiency, is a fundamental energy pillar that will help us reach this ambitious goal. As part of this effort, the European Commission will present new measures aimed at embracing technological advance across all sectors of the energy system. This initiative for so-called “smart sector integration” will help build the European energy system of the future.
Benefiting citizens – market uptake
The EU is today a frontrunner on renewable energy and has taken significant measures to boost market uptake. Solar panels and wind turbines are now a common sight across the EU, which in large part is due to increased market activity. In 2019, EU power production from wind and solar power overtook coal for the first time – meaning that they have become as competitive, or even cheaper, than fossil fuels in most places.
As the technologies have become more accessible, citizens have also become more empowered. The Clean energy for all Europeans package, and the recast Renewable Energy Directive, makes it easier for citizens to form energy communities, but also to produce, store and sell their own renewable energy.
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