Is the sun shining on the State of the European Energy Sector 2017?

By: Aurelie Beauvais, Policy Director

On the 30th of January 2018, the well known think tanks Agora Energiewende and Sandbag released their annual Report on the state of the European Energy Sector. The key findings of the report shed an interesting light on the growth of renewables in the European Union, that deserve to be taken into account in the context of the current Clean Energy Package negotiations.

Most importantly, renewable energy generation has shown a sharp increase in 2017, with a growth of 12%. Renewable energy has generated over 30% of Europe's electricity generation, with solar, wind, and biomass reaching up to 21% of EU's electricity mix. For the first time since the European Union committed to deliver a Clean Energy Transition, renewable energy generation in Europe has outpaced coal generation! With such an incredible breakthrough, agreeing on a more ambitious 35% renewable energy target for 2030 is simply a no-brainer.  

However, it isn't always sunny in the European Union - if we look more closely, the report reveals a very uneven growth of renewable energy in Europe.

First, this disparity is reflected geographically, as the UK and Germany alone account for 56% of the renewable growth observed for the past three years. This finding tells the tale of two European energy transitions; on the one hand, it shows the wonders that a favourable regulatory framework can achieve to boost renewables investment and lead to clean energy growth in Europe.; on the other hand, it points out the immense untapped potential lagging in Europe, as several Member States stagnate far below their renewable potential. For solar, the case of European Eastern countries is one of the most shocking - these countries have some of the highest radiance levels in Europe, yet some of the highest financing costs for renewables at the same time due to detrimental regulatory uncertainties and lack of political commitment.

Secondly, there is a discrepancy between the global renewables market and the reality in Europe. For example, while solar costs have fallen over 75% in the past ten years, our technology has not seen enjoyed corresponding growth in terms of additional renewable capacities in Europe.  EU policy makers need to take advantage of the low cost and versatility of solar to power the energy transition by developing the right framework to bring solar out of the shade and into the sun where it can reach its full potential. This will not only be a good move to reduce our CO2 emissions, but will also lower the cost of electricity bills for consumers at a time where energy poverty has become a major concern.

To help bridge the gap between the renewable energy haves and have nots, the Agora Energiewende/Sandbag report identifies the uptake of energy prosumers rights and energy communities as a key tool to fulfil renewable energy ambitions across Europe. The battle to increase energy self-consumption has been a long-lasting fight for SolarPower Europe, which has been very active in highlighting the benefits of small-scale renewable generation. Small generation installations empower territories, creating local jobs and contributing to rural development in Europe. Every day, they provide SMEs, local communities with local, competitive, and cleaner energy sources. The cherry on top?  An E&Y study launched in November 2017 showed that small-scale solar installations provide three times more European jobs than large-scale ones!

Figures talk for themselves, and there has never been a better time for Europe to unlock the power of the sun.