Energy is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Find out how the EU wants to increase renewable energy and decarbonise the sector.
Energy accounts for more than three quarters of EU greenhouse gas emissions . It covers electricity production, heating and transport - all essential to everyday life. Increasing renewable energy is key to drastically cutting power sector emissions and reaching the EU’s ambitious target of climate neutrality by 2050.
The development of renewable energy sources is also a way for EU countries to be less dependent on energy imports and less vulnerable to disruptions that can affect prices.
In parallel, the EU is working on energy saving measures.
Read more about EU action to reduce emissions
Increasing EU targets for the use of renewable energy
More than 20% of energy consumed in the EU comes from renewable sources. This has more than doubled since 2004. The EU's current 32% target for 2030 is being revised up along with updated targets for buildings, heating and cooling and industry. In September 2023, Parliament voted in favour of a deal reached with the Council that sets a new target of 42.5% of renewable energy sources by 2030. EU countries are urged to strive for a 45% share.
Read more on the EU’s targets for renewable energy
Accelerating permits for renewable energy power plants
In the context of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and to tackle EU dependence on Russian fossil fuels, Parliament approved additional measures in December 2022 to accelerate the share of renewables in the EU well ahead of 2030.
MEPs called for permits for new or adapted renewable energy power plants to be issued faster, including solar panels and windmills.
New installations in renewables acceleration areas - to be designated by each EU country - should get permits within nine months. Each EU country should also indicate its capacity to install renewables at a faster pace. In cases where the competent authority does not respond by the deadline, it would be considered approval.
New installations outside those areas should receive approval within a maximum of 18 months, while the process for existing plants should not exceed six months
The renewable acceleration areas designated by EU countries should avoid or reduce any negative environmental impact. Protected sites such as Natura 2000 sites, nature parks and reserves, animal migratory routes should be excluded. MEPs want citizens to be involved in decisions concerning the installation of plants and the designation of renewable areas.
MEPs also voted in favour of making it mandatory for EU countries to deliver permits to install solar energy equipment on buildings within a month. For smaller installations below 50kW, a simple notification procedure would be enough. Installing solar equipment would be exempt from the requirement to conduct an environmental impact assessment, MEPs decided. The process to issue a permit to install heat pumps should not exceed one month.
Betting on renewable hydrogen
When hydrogen is used as an energy source, it does not emit greenhouse gases, meaning it could help to decarbonise sectors where it is hard to decrease CO2 emissions. It is estimated that hydrogen could supply 20-50% of the EU's energy demand in transport and 5-20% in industry by 2050.
However, in order to be sustainable, hydrogen must be produced by renewable electricity. MEPs have insisted on the importance of a clear distinction between renewable and low-carbon hydrogen as well as on phasing out fossil-based hydrogen.
MEPs advocate a ramping up of hydrogen along with a simpler system for guaranteeing its origin, in their plans for the update of the EU's renewable rules.
Boosting offshore renewable energy
Currently, wind is the only offshore renewable energy source used on a commercial scale, but the EU is looking into other sources, such as tidal and wave power, floating solar energy and algae for biofuels.
The European Commission has proposed an EU strategy to dramatically increase the production of electricity from offshore renewable sources. Offshore wind capacity alone would grow from 12GW today to 300GW by 2050. Parliament will set out its position later.
Opting for alternative fuels
As road transport accounts for about a fifth of the EU’s carbon emissions, the EU wants to replace fossil fuels with renewable and low-carbon fuels. For example, renewable fuels include biomass fuels and biofuels, synthetic and paraffinic fuels, including ammonia, produced from renewable energy.
In addition, the switch to zero-emission vehicles must go hand in hand with a comprehensive infrastructure of recharging and refuelling stations.
In July 2023, Parliament adopted new rules concerning the necessary infrastructure to make recharging and refuelling stations more accessible across Europe. There should be electric charging areas for cars at least once every 60 kilometres along main EU roads by 2026 and charging areas for trucks and buses once every 120 kilometres by 2028.
Read more on alternative fuels
Funding green energy infrastructures
The EU has revised its rules on the funding of cross-border energy infrastructure projects in order to meet its climate goals. The new rules are aimed at phasing out EU funding for natural gas projects and redirect money to hydrogen infrastructure and carbon capture and storage.
The rules entered into force in June 2022. MEPs successfully pushed for more offshore renewable energy projects and facilitating their integration into EU networks. All new infrastructure projects must contribute to EU climate targets for 2030 and 2050, effectively ending EU support for fossil fuel based infrastructure.
Read more about funding of cross-border energy infrastructure
Ensuring a fair energy transition for everyone
To support vulnerable households and small businesses during this energy transition, the EU will set up the Social Climate Fund in 2026, with a total estimated budget of €86.7 billion.
It will help fund the switch to renewables and include measures to reduce energy taxes and fees as well as incentives to renovate buildings, boost car-sharing and develop a market for pre-owned electrical vehicles.
In April 2023, Parliament adopted the text of the deal with EU countries from December 2022. It has now to be endorsed by Council before it can enter into force.
Read more about the Social Climate Fund