This compromise for 2030, if accepted in the face of German opposition,would represent a significant change from the EU's 2020 targets. Those included binding goals that EU states should cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels and derive 20 per cent of their power from renewables. Measures to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent were only aspirational. For 2030, the tougher and quantifiable action would be required on more technical aspects of upgrading infrastructure.
"It's a bottom-up approach that is being considered now," said one person involved.
Discussions have been influenced by concerns that the generous subsidies supporting renewable energy in the EU are driving up energy costs for European industry and undermining its competitiveness, especially compared with the US.
(Read more: US shale revolution leaving Europe in the cold)
Europe has looked on in envy as the US shale gas boom has boosted gas production, driven down gas prices and triggered a manufacturing renaissance.Gas prices for industry fell by 66 per cent in the US between 2005 and 2012, while they rose 35 per cent in Europe over the same period, according to the commission.
Worried by the widening competitiveness gap, European utilities last year called for a complete rethink of European energy policy, demanding big reductions in renewables subsidies. The companies have argued against a 2030 renewables target, arguing it gives governments less flexibility over how they should meet overarching emission reduction targets.