Energy resources

Increasing global population and economic production puts pressure on the earth’s finite resources and ecosystem capacity, pushing resource efficiency in general and energy efficiency in particular up the European political agenda. Ways should be found to meet human needs and at the same time maintain the natural systems.

Promoting energy resource efficiency means taking preventive actions to save energy and finding ways to generate electricity at lower environmental costs. But it also relates to the environmental impacts that result from extracting resources from natural systems, creating waste and emitting pollutants. Renewable energy resources will therefore play a more and more important role in satisfying our energy needs in the future.

The main types of energy resources are renewable energy resources, fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Renewable energy resources are from sources of energy that replenish or renew themselves naturally. Renewable energy resources include the following:

  • Hydropower: power produced by capturing the potential and kinetic energy of water, usually for generating electricity in hydroelectric plants;
  • Geothermal energy: the energy available as heat from within the earth's crust, usually in the form of hot water or steam;
  • Wind energy: the kinetic energy of wind converted into electricity in wind turbines;
  • Solar energy: solar radiation exploited for heat or electricity generation;
  • Biomass: organic, non-fossil material of biological origin used in heat production or electricity generation; including mainly wood and wood waste, biogas, biofuels and the organic fraction of municipal solid waste and industrial waste.

Fossil fuel resources is a generic term for non-renewable natural energy sources such as coal, natural gas and oil that were formed from plants and animals (biomass) that existed in the geological past. Fossil fuels are carbon-based and currently supply most human energy requirements.

Nuclear energy is the power generated from the energy stored in the nuclei of particles. Nuclear power is primarily produced by harnessing the large quantities of energy produced by the forced splitting or decay of the nucleus through nuclear fission.

The effects of renewable energy resources on the environment are generally less problematic than those from other power sources. In 2009, a major policy package was adopted and has become binding legislation known as the 20-20-20 targets. This ‘climate and energy package' includes the following targets for 2020:

  • A reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions of at least 20% below 1990 levels;
  • At least 20% of EU gross final energy consumption to come from renewable energy sources;
  • At least 10% of transport final energy consumption to come from renewable energy sources;
  • A 20% reduction in primary energy use compared with projected levels, to be achieved by improving energy efficiency.

The promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources is laid down in Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 23 April 2009.


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Data sources

The main European sources of data come from Eurostat and the European Environment Agency (EEA). An overview of the data provided can be obtained on Eurostat’s database on energy statistics and EEA’s dedicated homepage on energy.

The OECD and International Energy Agency also provide a wide range of international energy statistics.

For detailed sources of data, refer to the respective energy resources.