With nightly riots in London, financial uncertainty spreading across Europe and concerns over home-grown terrorism in Scandinavia, the issue of meeting the European Union renewable portfolio standards is probably on a back burner for many EU members right now.

A recent graph from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that many EU countries are behind their interim targets, including some that are currently facing financial turmoil.

Many European Union member countries outstrip the U.S. when it comes to penetration rates of renewables, obtaining an average of 19 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. But that’s still not good enough for some countries, which missed the interim target towards the legally binding 20-percent-by-2020 standard imposed by the EU.

Countries with the highest rates of renewables in 2009 were Austria (74%), Sweden (60%), Portugal (39%), and Finland (32%), according to a report by the European Commission, and most of that came from hydropower and biomass.

The 20 percent by 2020 is not just for electricity generation, but also includes transportation, heating and cooling. Most of the 27 countries have used feed-in tariffs, although the structures of those have varied wildly. Germany, for example, has been quite successful, and is one of the countries meeting its renewable targets, while Italy is behind. Some nations have also adopted aggressive electric vehicle targets, which will help to meet the transportation goals. 

Among the EU nations, only Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, and Portugal are expected to meet their interim targets.

Although Europe leads the U.S. in offshore wind and Germany is a solar leader (and growing its wind portfolio too), hydropower still plays a huge role, especially in Scandinavia. Hydropower is not a growing part of the future though; rather, it is expected to stay flat while wind, biomass, solar and geothermal increase. Europeans are also leaders in efficiency, both in the electric and transportation sectors.

The European Commission report noted that although many countries were off-target, the pace of renewables coming online is likely to increase as 2020 gets closer. When the commission saw lagging figures a few years ago, it launched the Renewable Energy Directive in 2009, which called for the legally binding targets to keep countries on track. The U.S., on the other hand, can't even get a clear set of recommendations about a federal renewable portfolio standard from the Congressional Budget Office. 

To help meet the aggressive targets, countries are evaluating and upgrading their grids to be robust enough for everything from offshore wind to electric vehicles. To learn more about the smart grid in Europe, check out GTM Research’s upcoming report, The Smart Grid in Europe, 2012-2016: Technologies, Market Forecasts and Utility Profiles.