Europe’s Brisk Energy Transition – 20/08/2010

Europe’s evolution toward a heavier reliance on renewable energy is nicely documented in a report released this week by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency. The study, “Statistical Aspects of the Energy Economy in 2009,” provides a wealth of interesting detail without a lot of editorializing.

From 2008 to 2009 alone, the use of renewable energy in the European Union increased 8.3 percent. As I’ve reported as part of our continuing series, “Beyond Fossil Fuels,” some countries have made particularly great strides in this arena. Portugal now gets nearly 45 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, up from 17 percent five years ago.

The Eurostat report found that the production of energy from hard coal and natural gas showed an “important decrease” (9.2 and 10.1 percent, respectively). To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union is also aggressively pushing its members to cut back on their use of coal.

Renewable energy now accounts for 18.4 percent of energy production in the European Union, just behind natural gas, which provides 19.3 percent.

Energy intensity – a measure of how much energy is used to make a unit of economic output – dropped for the sixth straight year. That means member nations are learning to use energy more efficiently.

“The decoupling of increasing economic activity from increasing energy consumption is a goal for sustainable development,” the report notes. Emerging economic giants like China have been loath to define binding greenhouse gas reduction targets but have instead set as their goal reducing their energy intensity.

The report found that energy consumption across the European Union dropped 5.5 percent, to levels not seen since the 1990s – although at least some of the reduction is a result of the global recession.

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