Energy production and imports

Data extracted in July 2018.

Planned article update: July 2019.

Production of primary energy in the EU was 15 % lower in 2016 than it had been a decade earlier.
Russia was the main supplier to the EU of crude oil, natural gas and solid fuels in 2016.

Development of the production of primary energy (by fuel type), EU-28, 2006-2016

The dependency of the European Union (EU) on energy imports, particularly of oil and more recently of gas, forms the backdrop for policy concerns relating to the security of energy supplies. This article looks at the production of primary energy within the EU and, as a result of the shortfall between production and consumption, the EU’s increasing dependency on energy imports from non-member countries. Indeed, more than half (53.6 %) of the EU-28’s gross inland energy consumption in 2016 came from imported sources.

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Production of primary energy decreased between 2006 and 2016

Production of primary energy in the EU-28 totalled 755 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2016 — see Table 1. This was 1.6 % lower than a year before and continued the generally downward development observed in recent years, with 2010 the main exception as production rebounded following a relatively strong fall in energy production in 2009 that coincided with the global financial and economic crisis. When viewed over a longer period, the production of primary energy in the EU-28 was 14.7 % lower in 2016 than it had been a decade earlier. The general downward development of EU-28 primary energy production may, at least in part, be attributed to supplies of raw materials becoming exhausted and/or producers considering the exploitation of limited resources uneconomical.

In 2016, the highest level of primary energy production among the EU Member States was in France, with a 17.3 % share of the EU-28 total, followed by the United Kingdom (15.8 %) and Germany (15.3 %). Compared with a decade earlier the main changes were falls of 5.1 and 1.3 percentage points in the shares of the United Kingdom and Denmark and increases of 2.1 and 1.1 percentage points in the shares of France and Italy; relative shares of the remaining Member States did not vary by more than +/-1.0 percentage points. Aside from the United Kingdom and Denmark, the only other Member States whose shares fell during the period under consideration were the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Czech Republic and Lithuania.

In absolute terms, 15 of the 28 EU Member States recorded an expansion in their level of primary energy production during the past 11 years to 2016. The largest expansion in the production was registered in Italy (an increase of 3.7 Mtoe), followed by Spain (2.8 Mtoe), Ireland (2.5 Mtoe), Austria (2.4 Mtoe), and Sweden (2.3 Mtoe). By contrast, the production of primary energy in the United Kingdom fell by as much as 66.0 Mtoe, while Germany (-22.8 Mtoe), the Netherlands (-15.3 Mtoe), Denmark (-14.4 Mtoe) and Poland (-10.4 Mtoe) also reported contractions in excess of 10 Mtoe.

Table 1: Energy production, 2006 and 2016
(million tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat (nrg_100a)

Primary energy production in the EU-28 in 2016 was spread across a range of different energy sources, the most important of which in terms of the size of its contribution was nuclear energy (28.7 % of the total). The significance of nuclear energy was particularly high in France where it accounted almost 80 % of the national production of primary energy, while in Belgium this share was exactly three quarters and in Slovakia it was over three fifths (62.3 %); elsewhere, the share of nuclear energy in primary production was less than half of the total, with no contribution from nuclear energy in half of the EU Member States; the German government has announced plans to close all of its nuclear reactors by 2022.

In 2016, more than one quarter (27.9 %) of the EU-28’s total production of primary energy was accounted for by renewable energy sources, while the share for solid fuels (17.5 %, largely coal) was just below one fifth and the share for natural gas was somewhat lower (14.2 %). Crude oil (9.8 %) was the only other major source of primary energy production (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Production of primary energy, EU-28, 2016
(% of total, based on tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat (nrg_100a) and (nrg_107a)

The growth of EU-28 primary production from renewable energy sources exceeded that of all the other energy types; this growth was relatively uniform during the period covering 2006-2016, with a small dip in production in 2011 (see Figure 2). Over this 11-year period the production from renewables increased by 66.5 %, replacing, to some degree, the production of other sources of energy. By contrast, the production levels for the other sources fell, the largest reductions being recorded for natural gas (-41.2 %), crude oil (-39.0 %) and solid fuels (-30.8 %), with a more modest fall of 15.2 % for nuclear energy.

Figure 2: Development of the production of primary energy (by fuel type), EU-28, 2006-2016
(2006 = 100, based on tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat (nrg_100a)

The EU and its Member States are all net importers of energy

The downturn in the primary production of hard coal, lignite, crude oil, natural gas and more recently nuclear energy has led to a situation where the EU has become increasingly reliant on primary energy imports in order to satisfy its demand, although this situation stabilised in the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis. The EU-28’s imports of primary energy exceeded exports by almost 904 Mtoe in 2016. The largest net importers of primary energy were generally the most populous EU Member States, with the exception of Poland (where some indigenous reserves of coal remain). In 2006, Denmark had been the only net exporter of primary energy among the EU Member States, but in 2013 Danish energy imports exceeded exports such that there were no longer any Member States that were net exporters of energy (see Table 2). Relative to population size, the largest net importers in 2016 were Luxembourg, Malta and Belgium.

Table 2: Net imports of primary energy, 2006-2016
Source: Eurostat (nrg_100a) and (demo_pjan)

The origin of EU-28 energy imports has changed somewhat in recent years, although Russia has maintained its position as the main supplier of crude oil and natural gas (despite seeing its share reduced somewhat) and also emerged as the leading supplier of solid fuels (see Table 3).

Table 3: Main origin of primary energy imports, EU-28, 2006-2016
(% of extra EU-28 imports)
Source: Eurostat (nrg_122a), (nrg_123a) and (nrg_124a)

In 2016, some 30.2 % of the EU-28’s imports of solid fuels were from Russia: it became the principal supplier of solid fuels in 2006, overtaking South Africa. Russia’s share of EU-28 solid fuels imports reached a first relative peak of 30.0 % in 2009, before falling rapidly in 2010 and then subsequently rebounding to 28.8 % in 2013, after which its share remained almost unchanged in the following two years and to reach a peak in 2016. Between 2006 and 2016 the share of EU-28 solid fuel imports originating from Columbia doubled, rising from 11.7 % to 23.4 % of the total. By contrast, South Africa had been the second main supplier of solid fuel imports to the EU-28 in 2006 (23.1 % of the total) with its share falling to 5.1 % in 2016.

Russia was also the principal supplier of EU-28 crude oil imports. Its share stood at 33.8 % in 2006 and fluctuated between 34.8 % (which was also the peak recorded in 2011) and 29.1 % (the lowest share, recorded in 2015). In 2016, its share stood at 31.9 %. During the same period there was a relatively slow decline in the share of EU-28 crude oil imports that originated from Norway, with its share falling from 15.4 % in 2006 to 12.4 % in 2016. The relative shares of EU-28 crude oil supplies from Iraq (2.8-fold), Azerbaijan (2.0-fold) and Nigeria (1.6-fold) increased at a rapid pace between 2006 and 2016.

By contrast, Russia’s share of EU-28 imports of natural gas declined from 39.3 % to 31.9 % between 2006 and 2010, but this development was reversed and a peak of 41.1 % was recorded in 2013, after which the share fell somewhat to just below 40.0 %. During the 11 years shown in Table 3, Norway remained the second largest supplier of EU imports of natural gas, its share slowly falling from more than one quarter (25.9 % in 2006) to just below one quarter (24.8 % in 2016). The share of EU-28 natural gas supplies that originated from Nigeria and Libya were halved between 2006 and 2016, whereas the share from Qatar rose (3.2-fold).

The security of the EU’s primary energy supplies may be threatened if a high proportion of imports are concentrated among relatively few partners. More than three quarters (77.1 %) of the EU-28’s imports of natural gas in 2016 came from Russia, Norway or Algeria. A similar analysis shows that more than two thirds (68.2 %) of EU-28 solid fuel imports originated from Russia, Columbia and Australia, while imports of crude oil were slightly less concentrated among the principal suppliers, as Russia, Norway and Iraq accounted for 52.6 % of the EU-28’s imports.

More than half of EU-28 energy needs are covered by imports

EU-28 dependency on energy imports increased from slightly more than 40 % of gross energy consumption in 1990 to reach 53.6 % by 2016 (see Figure 3). Since 2004, the EU-28’s net imports of energy have been greater than its primary production; in other words, more than half of the EU-28’s gross inland energy consumption was supplied by net imports and the dependency rate exceeded 50.0 %.

In 2016, the energy dependency rate stood at the same level as in 2006 (53.6 %). Some few variations were noticed during this period: a relative peak of 54.5 % was registered in 2008, while 52.7 % was the lowest dependency registered in 2010. Looking in more detail, the highest rates in 2016 were recorded for crude oil (87.8 %) and for natural gas (70.4 %), while the latest rate available for solid fuels was 40.2 %.

Figure 3: Energy dependency rate, EU-28, 2006-2016
(% of net imports in gross inland consumption and bunkers, based on tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat (nrg_100a), (nrg_102a) and (nrg_103a)

Between 2006 and 2016, the EU’s dependency on non-member countries for supplies of natural gas grew by 11.1 percentage points, faster than the growth in dependency for crude oil (up 3.9 percentage points). The dependency for solid fuels during the same period went down by 1.4 percentage points.

As it was no longer a net exporter, Denmark’s energy dependency rate turned positive in 2013 and remained positive also in 2016, which was also the case for all of the other EU Member States (see Figure 4). The lowest energy dependency rates in 2016 were recorded for Estonia, Denmark, Romania and Poland. Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg were (almost) entirely dependent on primary energy imports, with dependency rates that were over 96.0 %.

An analysis of developments between 2006 and 2016 reveals that Denmark, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland became increasingly dependent upon energy imports to satisfy their gross inland consumption; these patterns can be largely associated with a downturn in primary energy production (linked to the supplies of raw materials becoming exhausted). There was also increasing dependency, although less marked, in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Germany and Malta. All of the remaining EU Member States recorded a fall in their energy dependency rates between 2006 and 2016, the most rapid change being registered in Estonia, where the rate fell from 29.2 % to 6.8 %; rates also fell by more than 10.0 percentage points in Ireland, Latvia, Portugal and Austria, driven by a combination of energy efficiency gains and/or a switch in the energy mix to promote primary production from renewable sources.

Figure 4: Energy dependency rate — all products, 2006 and 2016
(% of net imports in gross inland consumption and bunkers, based on tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat (t2020_rd320)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Energy commodities extracted or captured directly from natural resources are called primary energy sources, while energy commodities which are produced from primary energy sources in transformation plants are called derived products. Primary energy production covers the national production of primary energy sources and takes place when natural resources are exploited, for example, in coal mines, crude oil fields, hydropower plants, or in the fabrication of biofuels. Whenever consumption exceeds primary production, the shortfall needs to be accounted for by imports of primary or derived products.

The heat produced in a reactor as a result of nuclear fission is regarded as primary production of nuclear heat, alternatively referred to as nuclear energy. It is calculated either on the basis of the actual heat produced or on the basis of reported gross electricity generation and the thermal efficiency of the nuclear plant. Primary production of coal and lignite consists of quantities of fuels extracted or produced, calculated after any operation for the removal of inert matter.

Transformation of energy from one form to another, such as electricity or heat generation from thermal power plants, or coke production from coke ovens is not considered as primary production.

Net imports are calculated as the quantity of imports minus the equivalent quantity of exports. Imports represent all entries into the national territory excluding transit quantities (notably via gas and oil pipelines); exports similarly cover all quantities exported from the national territory.


More than half of the EU-28’s energy comes from countries outside the EU and this proportion has been generally rising over recent decades (although there is some evidence to suggest that the dependency rate has stabilised in recent years). Much of the energy imported into the EU comes from Russia, whose disputes with transit countries have threatened to disrupt supplies in recent years. Concerns about the security of supply from Russia were further heightened by the conflict in Ukraine. New measures for oil and gas markets were designed to ensure that all parties take effective action to prevent and mitigate the consequences of potential disruptions to supplies, while also creating mechanisms for EU Member States to work together to deal effectively with any major oil or gas disruptions which might arise; a coordination mechanism was set up so that Member States can react uniformly and immediately in emergency cases.

In November 2010, an initiative titled Energy 2020 a strategy for competitive, sustainable and secure energy (COM(2010) 639 final) was adopted by the European Commission. This strategy defines energy priorities for a period of 10 years and puts forward actions that may be taken in order to tackle a variety of challenges, including: achieving a market with competitive prices and secure supplies; boosting technological leadership; and effectively negotiating with international partners (for example, to pursue good relations with the EU’s external suppliers of energy and energy transit countries). This work has been further developed through a 2030 energy strategy which provides a policy framework for climate and energy policy to 2030 and a 2050 energy roadmap which set a long-term goal of reducing the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 % by 2050.

Through the Energy Community (established in October 2005), the EU also works to integrate neighbouring countries into its internal energy market. A broad mix of energy sources and diversity in suppliers, transport routes and transport mechanisms may each play an important role in securing energy supplies. For example, there are a number of ongoing initiatives to develop gas pipelines between Europe and its eastern and southern neighbours. These include the Nord Stream (between Russia and the EU via the Baltic Sea) which became operational in November 2011 and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (connecting Turkey to Italy through Greece and Albania to bring gas from the Caspian Sea region to the EU). Building reliable partnerships with supplier, transit and consumer countries is seen as a way to reduce the risks associated with the EU’s energy dependency and in September 2011 the European Commission adopted a Communication The EU energy policy: engaging with partners beyond our borders (COM(2011) 539 final).

In response to continuing concerns about the EU’s dependency on energy imports, in May 2014 the European Commission released its Energy Security Strategy (COM(2014) 330 final) which aims to ensure a stable and abundant supply of energy. As well as short-term measures looking at the impact of a halt to Russian gas imports or a disruption of imports through the Ukraine, the strategy addressed long-term security of supply challenges and proposed actions in five areas, including: increasing energy production in the EU and diversifying supplier countries and routes, and speaking with one voice in external energy policy. In 2015, the European Commission released a Communication concerning A framework strategy for a resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy (COM(2015) 80 final) which argued that one important element in ensuring energy security (in particular for gas) was full compliance of agreements related to buying energy from non-member countries. This was followed in February 2016 by European Commission proposals for new rules on EU gas supply security (COM(2016) 52 final) and new rules for energy agreements between EU and non-EU countries (COM(2016) 53 final).

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Energy statistics - quantities (t_nrg_quant)

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Energy statistics - imports (nrg_12)
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