Help Print this page 

Summaries of EU Legislation

Title and reference
Renewable energy: White Paper laying down a Community strategy and action plan

Summaries of EU legislation: direct access to the main summaries page.

This summary is archived.
Languages and formats available
HTML html ES html DE html EN html FR
Multilingual display
Miscellaneous information
  • Archived: true

Renewable energy: White Paper laying down a Community strategy and action plan


To attain, by 2010, a minimum penetration of 12% of renewable energy sources in the European Union.


Energy for the future: renewable energy sources - White Paper laying down a Community strategy and action plan.



The White Paper follows on from the discussion stimulated by the Green Paper published by the Commission in November 1996.

Renewable energy sources may help to reduce dependence on imports and increase security of supply. Positive effects are also foreseeable in terms of C02 emissions and job creation. Renewable energy sources at present account for 6% of the Union's overall gross internal energy consumption. The Union's aim is to double this figure by 2010.

The Union's overall objective requires a major input from the Member States, which must promote wider use of renewable energy sources as far as their potential allows.

The setting of goals in each Member State could encourage efforts to:

  • make greater use of the potential available;
  • help further cut CO2 levels;
  • reduce energy dependence;
  • develop the national industry;
  • create jobs.

Substantial investment, estimated at ECU 95 billion for the period from 1997 to 2010, will be needed to achieve this overall goal.

Greater use of renewable energy sources is expected to provide substantial economic benefits, in particular major export opportunities in view of the European Union's capacity to supply equipment and technical and financial services.

Estimates also point to:

  • the creation of 500 to 900 000 jobs;
  • an annual saving of fuel costs of ECU 3 billion from 2010;
  • the reduction of fuel imports by 17.4%;
  • the reduction of CO2 emissions by 402 million tonnes a year by 2010.

Main features of the action plan

The action plan aims at providing fair market opportunities for renewable energies without excessive financial burdens. For this purpose, a list of priority measures has been drawn up, including:

  • non-discriminatory access to the electricity market;
  • fiscal and financial measures;
  • new initiatives regarding bio-energy for transport, heat and electricity and, in particular, specific measures to increase the market share of bio-fuels, promote the use of biogas and develop markets for solid biomass;
  • the promotion of the use of renewable energy sources (such as solar energy) in the construction industry, both in retrofitting and for new buildings.

At the moment, little importance is attached to renewable energy sources in Community policies, programmes and the budget. The action plan aims to heighten the awareness of those responsible for the various programmes and to give greater prominence to renewable energy sources in the Union's various policies, such as:

  • the environment;
  • employment;
  • competition and State aid;
  • technological research and development, in particular under the JOULE-THERMIE programme;
  • regional policy;
  • the Common Agricultural Policy and rural development;
  • external relations, in particular through the PHARE, TACIS and MEDA programmes, etc.

To achieve the objective set in the White Paper, cooperation between the Member States must be increased. This has already been the subject of a proposal for a decision on the cooperation arrangements.

Support measures are also provided for, in particular under the ALTENER programme, to achieve targeted action, to inform consumers, to develop European standards, to improve the position of renewable energy sources on the capital market of the institutional and commercial banks and to create networks (of regions, islands, universities, etc.) in the field of renewable energy sources.

Campaign to get renewable sources off the ground

The aim of this campaign is to boost high-profile projects in various renewable energy sectors. Several key actions are to be promoted during the campaign:

  • the installation of one million photovoltaic systems, with 500 000 for roofs and façades for the EU domestic market (total investment cost: ECU 1.5 billion) and 500 000 for export, in particular to kick-start decentralised electrification in developing countries;
  • 10 000 MW of large wind farms;
  • 10 000 MWth of biomass installations;
  • integration of renewable energies in 100 small communities, regions, conurbations, islands, etc. as a pilot scheme.

The implementation of the strategy and action plan set out in White Paper will be closely followed, under the ALTENER programme, to measure the progress made in the penetration of renewable energy sources.

4) deadline for implementation of the legislation in the member states

Not applicable

5) date of entry into force (if different from the above)

Not applicable

6) references

COM (97) 599 final

7) follow-up

8) commission implementing measures

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the implementation of the Community strategy and action plan on renewable energy sources (1998-2000) [COM(2001)69 final]

The report follows up the Commission's commitment set out in the White Paper to introduce a communication assessing the progress made and, where appropriate, to recommend new approaches and/or measures. In recent years the White Paper and, in particular, the main aim of doubling the share of renewable energy sources (RES) in the European Union's gross internal energy consumption by increasing this to 12% by 2010 have become an essential reference at not only Community, but also at national, regional and local, level.

General comments

Overall, RES made little progress between 1997 and 2000 but have experienced spectacular growth in certain sectors and certain specific countries. In 1995 the proportion of RES in the EU's overall gross internal consumption was 5.4%. That figure increased to 5.9% in 1998 (interim figures). However an increase in 5.4% in the use of renewable energy sources to generate electricity, hydroelectric- and wind-power here making a major contribution, was noted between 1997 and 1998.

Although a huge amount of effort is still required at both Community and national levels in order to achieve the aims of the White Paper, the Commission feels that the principal aim is ambitious but nevertheless realistic. It should be noted that constant growth in the Community's gross internal energy consumption is a further hurdle on the way to achieving that aim. Moreover, following publication of the White Paper the signing of the Kyoto Protocol highlights even more the importance of RES.

It is also pointed out that it is difficult to assess the progress made since the impact of new laws at all levels will only make itself felt two or three years after these enter into force. The communication thus represents the initial conclusions.

Progress in each sector

Biomass (including biogas, solid biofuels, etc.) Given that it may make a major contribution to the security of supplies, biomass has become a major factor in energy, environmental and agricultural policies. Although progress has been made, this has not been enough given the potential of biomass and the available technologies. It is necessary to disseminate knowledge and information more widely within the European Union and to launch promotion campaigns stressing the energy, environmental and economic aspects of this technology.


Wind-power has made impressive progress. It has been growing at an annual rate of 55%. The European industry dominates the market - representing 60% of the international market. The key aim of this sector has already been achieved three years ahead of schedule. This positive development is above all the outcome of highly dynamic policies in Denmark, Germany and Spain.

Photovoltaic solar power (PV)

This sector has grown at an annual rate of 29% in Europe. Its potential is enormous and it is a highly popular source of power, but difficulties remain. It is essential that the public services and the municipalities become involved in order to solve these technical and administrative problems.

Thermal solar energy (solar heating)

The solar heating of water offers major potential in the building industry, which represents 40% of the EU's energy consumption and which is increasing rapidly. A slight increase of 14% has been noted in the surface area installed between 1997 and 1998. However, the market is still underexploited. Active promotion, distribution networks and commercial innovations are required.

Hydroelectricity The technology has been fully developed. The major hydroelectric schemes are in general competitive and do not need any particular assistance. The building of small hydroelectric power stations should be developed further.

Geothermal energy In 1999 almost one million homes were heated by geothermal energy and new stations have been completed.

New measures Several regulations have been adopted since the White Paper was published and a working party was set up at Community level in order to ensure closer cooperation between the Commission and the Member States.

The action taken at Community level concerns, among other things, the use of renewable energy sources in order to generate electricity, taxation, energy efficiency and output and the inclusion of other Community policies in areas such as the environment and agriculture. The policy extends to non-member countries such as the developing countries and the applicant countries. The kick-start campaign will take place in 2000-2003. The main thrust of the campaign is "100 communities aiming to be supplied 100% by RES" in 2003.

Community support for RES via all of the programmes and various subsidies is estimated at EUR 987.5 million for 1999-2003. Private-sector funding will provide most of the money needed for the campaign and the aims of the White Paper. A system of partnerships with public and private operators has been set up in order to achieve these aims.

Recommendations The Commission feels that the efforts made in the future will necessarily have to relate to devising specific strategies and aims for sub-sectors in the Member States, the promotion of biomass, action involving the building industry, the exchange of good practices in order to homogenise activities directed nationally, and the removal of legal and administrative barriers accompanied by innovative commercial instruments at Community level, and more particularly taxation.

Last updated: 13.03.2001