In the EU, each EU country determines its own energy mix, in respect of the rules of the internal EU energy market and taking into consideration the EU’s climate ambitions. The primary objective of a well-functioning market is to foster a secure supply of energy produced as sustainably as possible and at affordable prices.
EU action and measures
In the second half of 2021, the EU saw a significant increase in wholesale energy prices. Amongst the underlying reasons, the main driver was the surge in global energy demand, notably in Asia, as most countries emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic. This led to tighter supply, resulting, for instance, in lower volumes of liquefied natural gas imports to Europe.
At the same stage, a combination of lower supplies of gas, a longer heating season in 2020-21 and unfavourable weather conditions to produce renewable energy contributed to further strains. To a lesser extent, an increased carbon price under the Emissions Trading System (ETS) also contributed to the adverse market situation.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and the deliberate and concerted attempt by the Kremlin to use energy as a political weapon since then, gas and electricity prices reached record levels in 2022. The Commission has proposed several actions and measures to address the problem, phase out the EU’s dependency of Russian fossil fuels and help EU countries and citizens tackle the rising prices.
Toolbox of measures
The spike in wholesale prices in 2021 brought concerns about its effect on end-users, in particular for the most vulnerable consumers. To clarify what measures are possible under existing EU rules, the Commission published the Communication 'Tackling rising energy prices: a toolbox for action and support' on 13 October 2021. It documents a range of short- and medium-term initiatives that EU countries can take under the existing legislative framework, and other potential responses within the Commission’s remit.
As an immediate reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which amplified the on-going strain on the energy markets, the Commission published on 8 March the Communication 'REPowerEU: Joint EU action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy'. It states the EU’s intention to phase out its dependency on Russian fossil fuels, outlining a series of measures to deliver on this ambition, some of which complement the 2021 toolbox and look at the EU's security of supply. This blueprint was embraced by EU leaders as part of the ‘Versailles declaration’.
On 18 May 2022, the more detailed REPowerEU plan was published, presenting a comprehensive set of actions and resources to meet the goals outlined in the March communication. It aims to further reduce the EU's dependence on Russian fossil fuels, while increasing the resilience of the energy system. Building on the European Green Deal proposals, the plan puts forward an additional set of actions to save energy, diversify supplies and replace fossil fuels by accelerating the roll-out of renewable energy. Increasing energy savings and efficiency and scaling up renewables are expected to alleviate the pressure on energy prices, while boosting the green transition in the EU.
The website REPowerEU: affordable, secure and sustainable energy for Europe provides further details about the plan and its actions.
Security of supply and affordable energy prices
On 23 March, the Commission proposed a new Regulation on measures to safeguard the security of gas supply and published the Communication 'Security of supply and affordable energy prices: Options for immediate measures and preparing for next winter'. It sets out ideas for collective European actions to address the causes of the problem in the gas market and ensure security of gas supply at reasonable prices for citizens and businesses, notably by restocking gas storage facilities. The new Gas Storage Regulation ((EU) 2022/1032) was agreed by the co-legislators on 27 June 2022 and requires EU countries to fill gas storage facilities to 80% by 1 November and to 90% the years to follow.
On 20 July, the Commission proposed new rules on coordinated demand reduction measures for gas, together with the Communication “Save gas for a safe winter” (COM/2022/361). The new Regulation on coordinated demand-reduction measures for gas ((EU) 2022/1369) entered into force on 9 August after adoption on 5 August by the Council.
Emergency market intervention
On 14 September 2022, the Commission proposed a new Regulation on an emergency intervention to address high energy prices to reduce the energy bills for European citizens and businesses. The proposal includes measures to reduce electricity demand, which will help lower the electricity costs for consumers. It also suggests a temporary revenue cap on electricity producers using technologies with lower costs, such as renewables, nuclear and lignite. The Commission proposes to set the cap for those “inframarginal” producers to €180/MWh. The third measure is a temporary solidarity contribution on excess profits made in the oil, gas, coal and refinery sectors. It would be collected by EU countries on 2022 profits, which are at least 120% of the average profits of the previous 3 years, and would be redirected to energy consumers.
Playing my part
Together with the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Commission has published a series of actions that citizens can take to reduce their energy use, save money and at the same time support Ukraine by reducing the EU's dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The Playing my part report suggests 9 individual actions, that, if implemented by many, can make a difference.
- 14 September 2022Proposal for a new Regulation on an emergency intervention to address high energy prices and reduce energy bills for EU citizens
- 5 August 2022Adoption of the Regulation on coordinated demand reduction measures for gas (EU 2022/1369)
- 20 July 2022Commission proposal for a Regulation on coordinated demands reduction measures for gas and Communication "Save gas for a safe winter"
- 27 June 2022Adoption of Gas Storage Regulation (EU 2022/1032)
- 18 May 2022The Commission presents the REPowerEU Plan to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels
- 21 April 2022Campaign by IEA and EC "Playing my part" with energy saving tips to help cutting the EU’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels
- 23 March 2022Commission proposal to amend the Security of Gas Supply Regulation and a Communication "Security of supply and affordable energy price"
- 8 March 2022Communication “REPowerEU": Joint EU action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy”
- 13 October 2021Communication “Tackling rising energy prices: a toolbox for action and support”
Energy efficiency’s role for energy prices
Energy efficiency aims at a progressive reduction of energy consumption across all sectors, and is a necessary pre-condition to the clean energy transition. Especially in the context of high energy prices, energy efficiency measures and investments have an important role to play in
- strengthening the resilience of the EU energy market
- mitigating the macro-economic and social impacts of high energy prices, notably risking to drag many households into energy poverty
- reducing the energy consumption and minimise our dependence on energy imports
Investing in energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to save energy and reduce energy bills for public authorities, citizens and businesses. The REPowerEU plan proposes to raise the ambition of the Commission’s 2021 proposal for the EU energy efficiency target to ensure a 13% (rather than 9%) reduction of energy consumption by 2030, compared to the 2020 reference scenario projections. REPowerEU also includes an energy savings plan aiming to reduce overall energy consumption.
Progressing in the uptake of both energy efficiency measures and related investments is important, as medium to long-term measures will contribute to reducing energy prices, provide affordable and clean energy to households and companies and overall increase the resilience of the EU’s energy system and the internal energy market.
EU countries have currently planned a number of such actions, as part of their Recovery and Resilience Plans. The need to accelerate energy efficiency investments is not only key to mitigate the impacts of high energy prices, but it is also economically beneficial to take advantage of the reduced payback time for energy efficiency and building renovation investments. Many local commercial banks across the EU offer energy efficiency mortgages and financial lending products with lower credit risk and interest rates.
Energy pricing models
As in other sectors, the EU electricity market has a number of different players in the supply chain – from producers (or generators), to suppliers to end-consumers - with wholesale prices at one end and end-user prices at the other.
The wholesale market in the EU is a system of marginal pricing, also known as pay-as-clear market, where all electricity generators get the same price for the power they are selling at a given moment. Electricity producers (from national utilities to individuals who generate their own renewable energy and sell into the grid) bid into the market: they establish their price according to their production cost. Renewable energy sources are produced at zero cost, and are therefore by definition always the cheapest. The bidding goes from the cheapest to most the expensive energy source. The cheapest electricity is bought first, next offers in line follow. Once the full demand is satisfied, everybody obtains the price of the last producer from which electricity was bought.
This model provides efficiency, transparency and incentives to keep costs as low as possible. There is general consensus that the marginal model is the most efficient for liberalised electricity markets. In fact, it was used by most EU countries before being anchored in EU legislation.
The alternative would not provide cheaper prices. In the pay-as-bid model, producers (including cheap renewables) would simply bid at the price they expect the market to clear, not at zero or at their generation costs.
Overall, it is better for consumers to have a transparent model that reveals the true costs of energy and provides incentives for individuals to become active in generating their own electricity.
- Proposal for a Council Regulation on an emergency intervention to address high energy prices (COM/2022/473)
- Council Regulation on coordinated demand-reduction measures for gas ((EU) 2022/1369)
- Regulation on Gas Storage ((EU) 2022/1032)
- The REPowerEU plan (COM/2022/230)
- Communication - EU 'Save Energy' (COM/2022/240)
- REPowerEU: Joint European Action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy (COM/2022/108 final)
- Short-Term Energy Market Interventions and Long Term Improvements to the Electricity Market Design – a course for action (COM(2022)236)
- Security of supply and affordable energy prices (COM(2022)138) and its annex
- Tackling rising energy prices: a toolbox for action and support (COM/2021/660 final)
- Note by the Agency for the Coordination of Energy Regulators (ACER) on high prices (October 2021)
- Winter Supply Outlook for 2021/22 by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG) (October 2021)
- Media package on the emergency market intervention (14/9/2022)
- REPowerEU: affordable, secure and sustainable energy for Europe
- Media packages on REPowerEU
- Media package on energy prices toolbox (13/10/21) - Press release, Questions & Answers, Factsheet Energy Market, Factsheet Toolbox
- Quarterly gas and electricity market reports
- Electricity market design
- Energy prices and costs in Europe