03 Sep 2021 | 09:52 AM

Europe's 2020 Renewable Energy Targets: A Story of Struggle & Success
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As world leaders begin preparations ahead of COP26 this November, all eyes are on developing new climate change goals. One of the critical areas discussed is renewable energy – and experts are hoping for expanded targets.

This is much needed for many reasons, but one of the leading causes is that some countries are falling behind. Looking back at the last renewable energy targets, governments have had varying success, none more than the European Union.

How Did Countries Stack Up Against their Renewable Energy Goals?

Building off a strong 2019 result that saw the European Union reach a 19.7% renewable energy share, just 0.3% short of the 2020 target of 20%. The EU Commission has announced plans for the Union to be climate neutral by 2050.

While the EU renewable energy targets were not met, they provide an exciting backdrop and case study for how the world can progress. In 2009 the EU set an overall target to source 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. This allowed each contributing country to develop their own national policies to promote a transition away from fossil fuels efficiently.

In practice, this meant that not every one of the European nations reached a 20% target: countries like Malta aimed to reach a 10% mark, while Sweden sought to reach 49%.

As a whole, each nation was expected to aim for a renewable energy target they believed they could reach while also meeting Europe-wide policy agreements. This ensures a fair development process for every nation to improve their infrastructure and develop their renewable energy capacity at their own pace. While an ideal way of working towards a unified target, it also means that certain countries could not match the strides made by others.

Sweden Leads the EU in Renewable Energy

For example, Sweden has excelled in transitioning towards a clean energy future, but nations like France or the Netherlands have been slower to implement changes.

Sweden is the European leader in renewable energy and progressive environmental economics, with plans to have 100% renewable electricity generation by 2040. Able to capitalize on hydro (45%) and wind power (17%), the nation also relies on nuclear (30%) for a highly efficient low-carbon grid. While the Scandinavian country has set a high bar for performance, the EU’s renewable energy targets ensure other nations within the bloc can produce less - as long as they hit their goals.

So what is going wrong in other countries that are unable to meet their targets?

France’s Low-Carbon Grid

The answer is not as easy as one may expect, especially when you look at France and the Netherlands, which hold the dubious honour of having the largest renewable energy gap between their 2020 goals and resulting capacity. Both countries highlight the issues facing governments in Europe and abroad.

France was able to hit 19.1% of renewable energy consumption, short of the 23% it had pledged, yet it has a low-carbon intensity that rivals Sweden - how come? The country relies heavily on its nuclear infrastructure, which accounts for 78% of its energy mix. Additionally, it is in the process of phasing out nuclear plants in favour of more green energy. While France was unable to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets, it still provides low-carbon power generation. The numbers don’t look flattering on the outside, but progress is being made below the surface.


The Netherlands are Falling Behind Their Renewable Energy Goals

Unfortunately, the Netherlands does not have a similar redemption story. With an energy mix consisting of 90% fossil fuels, the nation announced in 2017 that it would fail to meet its 14% renewable energy target. And they have also raised doubts as to whether their 49% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 is feasible.

Investments have continued to flow into the country’s burgeoning clean energy market. The government has sought to work on other forms of mitigation, namely improving energy efficiency and implementing more robust environmental policies. Although the Netherlands is struggling to keep up with the EU’s renewable energy targets, it is actively seeking opportunities to develop its infrastructure - and it has had some success in doing so.

What Can We Learn From the EU?

The European Union can be seen as a microcosm of the world. Some nations are capable of shouldering a larger load, some cannot transition straight away, and others have the insufficient infrastructure to stave off fossil fuels. Continued support, innovation, and financing are key in helping all of these countries reach their renewable energy targets - for nations small or large.

As the Climate Action Tracker illustrates, current policies are not in line with keeping temperatures within the 1.5°C limit outlined in the Paris Agreement. A fast transition into renewable energy and a shift towards sustainable development is certain to yield the results needed to mitigate climate change. We look to COP26 to hopefully provide workable solutions.



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BY Eric Koons