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Euan Mearns

Euan Mearns

"Euan Mearns is a geologist and geochemist. In recent years he was a principal at The Oil Drum, the worlds leading energy blog, until it…

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Can We Trust The Statistics The EU Gives Us On Renewable Energy Targets?

This post examines EU renewable energy targets and how the various member states are doing in meeting the targets agreed for 2020. It has been found that the compliance data published by Eurostat do not agree with the raw Eurostat or BP statistics.

On April 23, 2009 the European Parliament issued Directive 2009/28/EC, which committed the European Union to obtaining 20% of its energy – note energy, not electricity – from renewable sources by 2020. Figure 1 summarizes the progress individual EU countries had made towards their individual 2020 targets as of the end of 2013, the last year for which data are available from Eurostat, the EU’s official record-keeper. (Only 21 of the 28 EU countries are discussed here because data for Estonia, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia are incomplete. Renewables generation in these countries is, however, minimal):


Figure 1: Compliance with EU renewables directive targets as of end 2013, data from Eurostat “overall share of energy from renewable resources

With seven years to go Sweden, Bulgaria and Lithuania had already met or exceeded their 2020 targets, Romania, Italy, the Czech Republic, Finland and Austria were within a percent or so of meeting theirs and all the countries between Denmark and Germany were estimated to be on a “trajectory” that would bring them into compliance before 2020. The EU as a whole was within 5% of its collective 20% target and was, and still is, expected to meet it.

At the bottom, however, are four laggard countries that were and still are projected to miss their targets – Ireland, France, the Netherlands and, ignominiously bringing up the rear, the UK. Related: The Mirage Of An Iranian Oil Bonanza

How did the UK end up down there?

One reason is the target the UK set itself. For whatever reason the UK agreed to increase its renewables share more than any other EU country. When it signed onto the EU directive in 2009 renewables supplied only 3% of the UK’s energy, so the 15% target the UK committed to, represented an effective increase of 12%. France, Ireland and the Netherlands, the other three laggard countries, also committed to effective increases of 10% or more. Germany and Italy, however, committed to effective increases of only 8%, Spain to only 7% and Austria and Sweden to less than 4%. Effective increases by country are summarized in Figure 2:


Figure 2: Effective increase in percent renewables between 2009 and 2020 committed to by EU countries, calculated as 2020 target minus percent renewables in 2009

Figure 3 provides a graphical perspective. It plots annual percent renewables generation by year between 2004 and 2013 for France, Germany, the UK and the EU28, draws trend lines through the points and projects them to 2020, where national targets are shown as squares (data again from Eurostat). Germany and the EU28 will meet their targets (barely) so long as they maintain their trajectory, but France is going to have to pull out all the stops to have any chance of meeting its target and only a miracle can save the UK:


Figure 3: Progress towards meeting 2020 renewables targets, France, Germany, UK and EU28

But another reason for the UK’s disappointing performance is that the Figure 1 data have been manipulated – I don’t think deliberately to the UK’s disadvantage, but that’s the way it has turned out. Related: Financial Sector To Cut Credit Supply Lines For Oil And Gas Industry

How do I deduce that the Figure 1 data have been manipulated? Well, the accepted way of calculating the percentage of renewables in a country’s energy mix is to divide total energy from renewables by total energy consumption. Eurostat publishes these numbers, given in millions of tons of oil equivalent, in two data sets called “primary production of renewable energy” and “gross inland consumption of energy.” I checked these data sets against the data in the 2015 BP Statistical Review and found that they indeed show total energy from renewables and total energy consumption (details omitted to avoid cluttering up the text but available on request). So when I divide one by the other I should get the results shown in Figure 1, right?

But I get something quite different:


Figure 4: Compliance with EU renewables directive targets as of end 2013, calculated from Eurostat’s “primary production of renewable energy” and “gross inland consumption of energy” data sets

Everyone is now in the red and the EU is collectively 8.5% rather than 5% away from meeting its 2020 target. The UK has moved up three places, Hungary has gone from eleventh to third, Spain has moved up from fourteenth to sixth and Sweden has fallen from first to dead last.

What’s going on here?

There is only one possible explanation – the Figure 1 percentages, the EU’s official estimates, have somehow been “adjusted”, and as illustrated in Figure 5 the adjustments are not small:


Figure 5: Percentage adjustments applied to Figure 4 data to obtain Figure 1 data

Every country except the Netherlands gains percentage points and the EU moves 3.5% closer to meeting its collective 2020 target. But the gains range from less than a percent for Hungary, Spain, Portugal and the UK up to an eye-popping 18% for Sweden.

What is the basis for these adjustments? I have been unable to find out. Maybe someone else can tell me. But I can hazard a guess as to how they arose. Eurostat runs the input data through its “SHARES” (Short Assessment of Renewable Energy Sources) tool, which provides a harmonized calculation of the share of energy from renewable sources. Anyone with a couple of months to spend working with Eurostat’s spreadsheets could probably figure out exactly what SHARES does, but it sounds suspiciously like another homogenization algorithm to me. Enough said.

So where does this leave the UK? If the UK flunks its EU renewables target it would not only be embarrassing – particularly after all the claims the UK has made about being a world leader in renewables – but the UK could also be fined by the EU for flunking it. The UK government in fact already seems to have accepted that the UK will miss its target and is considering ways of not getting fined, as noted in this recent Blowout article. Related: “Supersize” Fracking Could Keep Natural Gas Prices Low For Years

But accepting defeat at this early stage would be premature. Before admitting non-compliance and certainly before paying any fines the UK should insist on an audit of Eurostat’s data, procedures and results, including an estimation of error bars, carried out by a fully- independent entity (Eurostat is a branch of the European Commission). Questions certainly need to be asked when the official numbers conflict so heavily with the raw data. It might in fact be a good idea to start proceedings now. These things can take time to work their way through the courts.

Finally, and purely as a matter of interest, where does the UK stand when renewables percentages are calculated using the BP data? It doesn’t get a great deal closer to meeting its 15%-by-2020 target but at least it’s no longer languishing down there with the laggards:


Figure 6: Compliance with EU renewables directive targets as of end 2013, calculated from BP’s “primary energy consumption” and “renewable energy consumption” data.

By Roger Andrews via EuanMearns

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  • doogie on September 08 2015 said:
    And these trends will probably be getting worse due to the big bills ahead to pay for the flood of refugees into many of these countries.

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