This article is part of our special report Wind Energy.
Europe is set to beat its target of drawing 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, according to an analysis of national action plans by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).
The group has collated European Commission figures which show that 20.7% of energy consumption – and 34% of electricity demand – will be met by energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar and biomass power by the decade's end.
Of the 15 member states that say they plan to exceed their national targets, Bulgaria, Spain and Greece lead the way with surpluses of 2.8%, 2.7% and 2.2% respectively. Only Luxembourg and Italy informed the Commission that they would need to use 'cooperation mechanisms' to meet their targets.
A cooperation mechanism allows a country to meet its obligations by developing renewable energy in another country.
Julian Scola, communications director at EWEA, told EURACTIV that he hoped the EU's 27 member states would not now rest on their laurels. "There is still a lot to be done to achieve these targets," he said.
"Wind farms need to be erected, the grid has to be improved, grid access has to be enabled and the permitting process has to be sped up. There are very long administrative delays in building wind farms and this is problematic for some countries. We'll certainly be watching over the coming years to make sure that no complacency starts creeping in."
Nevertheless, as far as renewables are concerned, environmentalists have grounds for optimism. In 2009, wind power alone accounted for 39% of all new European energy capacity installed and by 2020, the technology was expected to supply some 14% of Europe's electricity. At the end of 2010, around 11.6% of Europe's electricity came from renewables.
According to a little-publicised European Commission report on 'EU energy trends to 2030', the Commission expects 64% of new energy capacity installed in the decade from 2011-2020 to come from renewables. Wind power would account for 41% of all new installations.
Jason Anderson, WWF's head of European climate change and energy policy, welcomed the news that the EU was on track to meet its 2020 renewables target, but also sounded a note of caution.
"The fact that the national action plans are calling for [renewable energy] levels that exceed 20% is encouraging," he said. "It will hopefully give more countries the confidence to say that, when looking towards 2050, 'we can be even more ambitious'. But not too many have made the necessary preparations to actually do that, at this stage."