I know that comparing the UK with other EU member states isn’t all that fashionable these days. But as long as we are still in the EU we do still benefit from regular statistical comparison between what we do here and what others do in their countries. Statistics about energy generation and energy consumptions are not exception.
On 21 February, the i Newspaper published one of its regular infographics on page 2. This one was on renewable energy. It compared the share of energy derived from renewable sources in EU member states between 2004 and 2016. I’m not sure why they chose these two dates, but it turns out that Eurostat had published these figures and so they decided to report on this.
The graph showed the percentages derived from all renewable sources in those two years in each EU member state and the EU average. It did not compare the relative improvement for each EU member state and the EU as a whole, which, in my view, is also an important bit of information. If you start from a low base, and even if you make a relatively strong effort to improve, the overall outcome may still be low but the relative difference might be more respectable.
So I went to the source material and did some graphs myself. I thought I would share them here.
What was the picture in 2004?
The EU average was at about 8.5%; that means in 2004, 8.5% of the energy was derived from renewable sources across all 28 member states (at that time, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia had not joined but their figures were included as they were already candidate or pre-accession countries).
The UK came in at a woeful 3rd from bottom with 1.1 % in front of only Malta and Luxembourg.
The country with the highest proportion is – not altogether surprisingly – Sweden at 38.7%. What is maybe more surprising is that Croatia – then still a pre-accession country and recovering from a relatively recent war – was in 4th place with 23.5 %.
And what is the picture in 2016?
Headline good news: overall the percentage across the EU has increased to 13.5%; that is not true for all member states. And, notably, Sweden, now in 2nd place has slipped down to 37.1% just behind Latvia which is now on 37.2%.
The UK has improved its position from 3rd to 7th (out of 28) and is now at 8.1%; that is still lower than the EU average some 14 years earlier, though.
What of the relative improvement (or otherwise) over the 14 years?
For me, the really crucial questions aren’t just the absolute numbers but also the relative shift that each member state has made.
This, then is the picture:
The overall improvement was 5 % across the EU. That’s quite a small improvement and from a low base (8.5 to 13.5% respectively). 10 countries did better than the average, 15 did worse but still made improvements, and three decreased their share of energy derived from renewables. All three had been at the high end in 2004 (places 1, 4 and 7 respectively). But overall, this does not reflect a continent that has ‘got’ the need to decouple from fossil fuel. Not even in the energy sector, never mind in transport and elsewhere.
The UK made improvements. From place 3 to place 7; from 1.1 to 8.1 %; and it therefore finds itself in place 5 in the league table of improvers. Interestingly, and despite the fact that this is probably the best bit of news we can derive from the figures published, the infographics in the i newspaper did not show this and did not provide data to allow anyone to draw that conclusion.
The take home message?
All EU countries need to do more to shift from fossil fuels to renewables in energy generation. The UK started on a very low base, has made some improvements, is still nowhere near the EU average in the share derived from renewables but has progressed faster than some others. Must do better but hats off for trying?
Well, given that there is enough solar energy available to provide well in excess of what we could possibly need, and given that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is essential for the climate, the planet, and to improve air quality, there is no excuse for slow progress, limited targets, and lacklustre performance. Yet more evidence that we need to hold our politicians to account. And leaving the EU isn’t going to help, not least because we’re not likely to get any decent comparable information.
 See The Switch by Chris Goodall reviewed inter alia in Green World: http://www.greenworld.org.uk/article/review-switch-how-solar-storage-and-new-tech-means-cheap-power-all
 Source of data: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Renewable_energy_statistics#Main_tables accessed on 22 February 2018