The Future of Renewable Energy in the EU: Updating Policy and Fostering Innovation

The use of renewable energy has many potential benefits, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the diversification of energy supplies and a reduced dependency on fossil fuel markets (in particular, oil and gas). The growth of renewable energy sources may also have the potential to stimulate employment  through the creation of jobs in new ‘green’ technologies. Renewable energy in the EU has grown strongly in recent years, with the share of energy from renewable sources increased from around 8.5 % in 2004 up to 16.7 % in 2015 (Eurostat, 2017).

In 2009, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the so called RES Directive, amended in 2013, which established a mandatory 20% share of EU energy consumption from renewable energy sources (RES) by 2020, with specific targets for each Member State. In addition, it required all Member States to obtain 10% of their transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020, and laid out criteria for biofuels sustainability. In 2015 the RES Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) were revised to recognise and mitigate the negative environmental impact that biofuels production can have in terms of indirect land-use change and related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These revisions to the RES Directive and the FQD strengthened the sustainability criteria for biofuels, and imposed more stringent requirements in terms of reducing GHG emissions. On 30 November 2016, the European Commission launched the Clean Energy package, which included a recast of the RES Directive, with the aim of meeting the goals of the 2030 EU Climate and Energy Framework, in particular the binding target of a 27 % EU share of RES in final energy consumption by 2030.

The latest progress report on the implementation of the RES Directive (February 2017) notes that the vast majority of EU countries are well on track to reach their binding targets for renewable energy, but continued effort is needed. Heating and cooling remains the largest sector in terms of energy consumption, but half of the supply comes from renewables. The electricity sector has seen the fastest growth in renewable share, currently 28.3% of total production, but the main contributor remains hydropower, despite the substantial growth of onshore wind and the strong but slowing development of solar photovoltaic. Finally, transport is the sector which continues to show the slowest growth of renewables, with a renewable energy share of 6.0 %, due to various difficulties, including regulatory uncertainty and a late uptake of advanced biofuels.

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