EU renewable energy policy

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European leaders signed up to a binding EU-wide target to source 20% of their energy needs from renewables, including biomass, hydro, wind and solar power, by 2020. To meet this objective, they also agreed on a new directive to promote renewable energies, which set individual targets for each member state.

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Renewable energies such as wind power, solar energy, hydropower and biomass can play a major role in tackling the twin challenge of energy security and global warming because they do not deplete and produce less greenhouse-gas emissions than fossil fuels. 

They are also expected to play a key role in creating new technology jobs and leading Europe out of the economic crisis.

Since the energy crises of the 1970s, several industrial nations have launched programmes to develop renewable energy solutions, but the return of low oil prices prevented renewable energies from picking up on a large commercial scale.

In 2007, renewable energies covered 13.1% of global primary energy supply and 17.9% of global electricity production (IEA, 2007). The IEA's 2006 World Energy Outlook foresees in its Alternative Policy Scenario that the share of renewables in global energy consumption will only slightly increase by 2030, at 14%. Renewables in electricity generation are expected to grow to around 25%, according to the IEA.

The European Commission published a White Paper in 1997 setting out a Community strategy for achieving a 12% share of renewables in the EU's energy mix. The decision was motivated by concerns about security of supply and environmental protection.

The 12% target was adopted in a 2001 directive on the promotion of electricity from renewable energy sources, which also included a 22.1% target for electricity for the EU-15. The legislation was an important part of the EU's measures to deliver on commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol.

Nevertheless, the targets were not binding and it became evident that they would not be met.

In January 2007, the Commission published a Renewable Energy Roadmap outlining a long-term strategy. It called for a mandatory target of a 20% share of renewable energies in the EU's energy mix by 2020. The target was endorsed by EU leaders in March 2007.

To achieve this objective, the EU adopted a new Renewables Directive in April 2009, which set individual targets for each member state.

The 'Europe 2020' strategy, presented by the Commission in March 2010, incorporated the 2020 climate goals in its flagship initiative to promote a resource-efficient Europe.