Renewable sources of energy (wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, ocean energy, geothermal energy, biomass and biofuels) are alternatives to fossil fuels that contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying energy supply and reducing dependence on unreliable and volatile fossil fuel markets, in particular oil and gas. EU legislation on the promotion of renewables has evolved significantly in the past 15 years. In 2009, EU leaders set a target of a 20% share of EU energy consumption coming from renewable energy sources by 2020. In 2018, the target of a 32% share of EU energy consumption coming from renewable energy sources by 2030 was agreed. The future policy framework for the post-2030 period is under discussion.

Legal basis and objectives

Article 194 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Achievements

A. Renewable Energy Directive

1. Renewable Energy Directive (RED I): towards 2020

The original Renewable Energy Directive, adopted by codecision on 23 April 2009 (Directive 2009/28/EC, repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC), established that a mandatory 20% share of EU energy consumption must come from renewable energy sources by 2020. In addition, all Member States were required to obtain 10% of their transport fuels from renewables.

The directive also mapped out various mechanisms that Member States could apply in order to reach their targets, such as support schemes, guarantees of origin, joint projects, and cooperation between Member States and third countries, as well as sustainability criteria for biofuels.

Until 2020, the directive confirmed existing national renewable energy targets for each country, taking into account the starting point and overall potential for renewables (from renewables shares of 10% in Malta to 49% in Sweden). Each EU country set out how it planned to meet its individual target and the general roadmap for its renewable energy policy in a national renewable energy action plan. Progress towards the national targets was measured every two years when EU countries published national renewable energy progress reports.

2. Renewable Energy Directive (RED II): towards 2030

In December 2018, the revised Renewable Energy Directive (Directive (EU) 2018/2001) entered into force, as part of the clean energy for all Europeans package, aimed at keeping the EU a global leader in renewables and, more broadly, helping the EU to meet its emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement. This revised directive has been in force since December 2018 and must become national law in EU countries by June 2021. It takes effect from 1 July 2021 onwards.

The directive establishes a new binding renewable energy target for the EU for 2030 of at least 32% of final energy consumption, with a clause for a possible upwards revision by 2023 and an increased 14% target for the share of renewable fuels in transport by 2030.

In the absence of revised national targets, the national renewables targets for 2020 should constitute the minimum contribution of each Member State for 2030. EU countries will propose their national energy target and establish 10-year national energy and climate plans during Horizon 2030, followed by progress reports every two years. These plans will be assessed by the Commission, which could take measures at EU level to ensure that they are consistent with the overall EU targets.

B. The European Green Deal

On 11 December 2019, the Commission outlined its communication on the European Green Deal (COM(2019)0640). This green pact sets out a detailed vision to make Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050 by supplying clean, affordable and secure energy.

1. Clean energy for all Europeans

On 30 November 2016, the Commission published its legislative package entitled ‘clean energy for all Europeans’ (COM(2016)0860) as part of the broader Energy Union strategy (COM(2015)0080). It includes a proposal for a recast of the Renewable Energy Directive to make the EU a global leader in renewables and to meet the target of at least a 27% share of renewables in the total amount of energy consumed in the EU by 2030. The Commission’s proposal for a new directive also promotes the use of energy from renewables by:

  • Further deploying renewables in the electricity sector;
  • Mainstreaming renewables in the heating and cooling sector (an indicative annual increase of 1.3% for renewables in heating and cooling has been introduced);
  • Decarbonising and diversifying the transport sector:
    • a 14% share of renewables in the total energy consumption of the transport sector in 2030;
    • a 3.5% share of advanced biofuels and biogas in 2030, with an intermediary target of 1% by 2025;
    • a 7% cap on the share of first-generation biofuels in road and rail transport, and plans to phase out the use of palm oil and other food-crop biofuels that increase CO2 emissions by 2030, through a certification scheme.
  • Strengthening the EU sustainability criteria for bioenergy;
  • Making sure the EU-level binding target is achieved on time and in a cost-effective way.

2. Renewable energy financing mechanism

The Commission has established an EU financing mechanism (Regulation 2020/1294) based on Article 33 of the Governance Regulation ((EU) 2018/1999) in the clean energy for all Europeans package. This has been in force since September 2020 and the Commission is still in the implementation process.

The main objective of this mechanism is to help countries achieve their individual and collective renewable energy targets. The financing mechanism links countries that contribute to the financing of projects (contributing countries) with countries that agree to have new projects built on their territories (host countries). The Commission sets out the implementation framework and means of funding for the mechanism, establishing that Member States, EU funds, or private sector contributions may finance actions under the mechanism.

The energy generated through this financing mechanism will count towards the renewable energy targets of all participating countries and feed into the European Green Deal ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

C. Future steps

1. Trans-European Network for Energy

In July 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the revision of the guidelines for the Trans-European Network for Energy (TEN-E), which is designed to update them and bring them in line with EU climate policy. The original Decision No 1254/96/EC has been revised several times, and Regulation (EU) No 347/2013 established the current guidelines for the trans-European energy infrastructure.

In December 2020, the Commission adopted a proposal to revise these rules (COM(2020)0824), seeking to connect regions currently isolated from European energy markets. The aim of the revision is to promote a significant increase in renewable energy in the European energy system in line with the overarching European Green Deal objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

2. Revision of the Energy Taxation Directive

Following the adoption of the European Green Deal, the Commission is shortly expected to publish a proposal on the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive (Directive 2003/96). This will aim to follow the commitments made by the European Union on the share of renewables in the European energy mix.

D. Resource-specific issues

1. Biomass and biofuels

After the publication of non-binding criteria for biomass in February 2010 (COM(2010)0011), the Commission decided to review the measures and to establish whether mandatory standards would be necessary in the future. The revised Renewable Energy Directive includes updated criteria to improve the sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions-saving criteria for biofuels, bioliquids and biomass.

The revised directive includes a sub-target of 3.5% for advanced biofuels and biogas by 2030 (1% in 2025) in the transport sector. While the existing 7% cap on first-generation biofuels is maintained in road and rail transport, an EU-level obligation for fuel suppliers to provide a certain share (6.8%) of low-emission and renewable fuels and an extension of the scope of the EU sustainability criteria for bioenergy (to cover biomass and biogas for heating and cooling and electricity generation) is introduced.

2. Offshore wind

On 19 November 2020, the Commission published a dedicated EU strategy on offshore renewable energy entitled ‘An EU Strategy to harness the potential of offshore renewable energy for a climate neutral future’ (COM(2020)0741), which assesses the potential contribution of offshore renewables and goes beyond a narrow definition of the factors of energy production. This strategy aims to increase the EU’s production of electricity from offshore renewable energy sources from 12 GW in 2020 to over 60 GW by 2030 and 300 GW by 2050. In addition, it envisages a legislative revision of the Trans-European Network for Energy to make it more applicable to cross-border offshore infrastructure.

3. Ocean Energy

In January 2014 the Commission published a communication entitled ‘Blue Energy: Action needed to deliver on the potential of ocean energy in European seas and oceans by 2020 and beyond’ (COM(2014)0008). This communication sets out an action plan to support the development of ocean energy, including that generated by waves, tidal power, thermal energy conversion and salinity gradient power.

Role of the European Parliament

Parliament has consistently advocated the use of renewables and highlighted the importance of setting mandatory targets for 2020[1] and, more recently, for 2030. In February 2014 it adopted a resolution[2] criticising the proposals made by the Commission for the 2030 climate and energy framework as short-sighted and unambitious. It called for a binding 30% share of renewables in energy consumption at EU level, to be implemented through individual nationally binding targets, and for an extension of transport fuel targets after 2020.

When it adopted the Renewable Energy Directive, Parliament tightened up and clarified several mechanisms, while also instituting a system to more thoroughly guarantee the environmental sustainability of the whole policy. In particular, Parliament played an important role in:

  • Defining the conditionality of the renewable transport fuel target, by laying down quantitative and qualitative sustainability criteria for biofuels, pointing in particular to the problems associated with indirect land-use change;
  • Ensuring access for renewable energy to electricity grid infrastructure;
  • Limiting the role of the 2014 review clause, in order to avoid renegotiation of the binding targets.

In March 2013, Parliament endorsed the Energy Roadmap 2050[3] and called on the Commission to present a 2030 policy framework as soon as possible, including milestones and targets for greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Parliament invited the Commission to submit an analysis and proposals on how to deploy renewable energy sources sustainably and with greater efficiency in the EU.

In June 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution[4] on the renewable energy progress report, in which it called on the Commission to present a more ambitious climate and energy package for 2030 that should increase the EU target for renewables to at least 30%, to be implemented by means of individual national targets. The targets already agreed for 2020 had to be taken as the minimum baseline when revising the Renewable Energy Directive. On 17 January 2018, Parliament supported a share of at least 35% of all energy coming from renewables by 2030[5] and reinforced self-consumption as a right.

In January 2020, Parliament adopted a resolution[6] on the European Green Deal in which it issued a series of recommendations, including providing clean, affordable and secure energy. In this spirit, it called for a revision of the Renewable Energy Directive and for the setting of binding national targets for each Member State, and recommended that the ‘energy first principle’ be implemented in all sectors and policies.

In May 2021, Parliament adopted resolutions on a European strategy for energy system integration (COM(2020)0299) and a European Strategy for Hydrogen (COM(2020)0301) which support advocated decarbonisation and the use of renewables in the production of electricity and hydrogen. It also called on the Commission to assign a guarantee of origin to renewable hydrogen and to frame the discussion in the context of the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive, as well as the revision of the State aid guidelines to promote the development of renewables.

 

[1]Parliament resolutions of 29 September 2005 on the share of renewable energy in the EU and proposals for concrete actions (OJ C 227 E, 21.9.2006, p. 599), of 14 February 2006 on heating and cooling from renewable sources of energy (OJ C 290 E, 29.11.2006, p. 115), of 14 December 2006 on a strategy for biomass and biofuels (OJ C 317 E, 23.12.2006, p. 890), and of 25 September 2007 on the Road Map for Renewable Energy in Europe (OJ C 219 E, 28.8.2008, p. 82).
[2]Parliament resolution of 5 February 2014 on a 2030 framework for climate and energy policies (OJ C 93, 24.3.2017, p. 79).
[3]Parliament resolution of 14 March 2013 on the Energy Roadmap 2050, a future with energy (OJ C 36, 29.1.2016, p. 62).
[4]Parliament resolution of 23 June 2016 on the renewable energy progress report (OJ C 91, 9.3.2018, p. 16).
[6]Parliament resolution of 15 January 2020 on the European Green Deal (Texts adopted, P9_TA(2020)0005).

Matteo Ciucci / Albane Keravec