As more and more countries rush to reduce their dependence on oil and gas from Russia As a result of its invasion of Ukraine, few places are as exposed as the European Union.
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The EU receives approximately 40% of its gas from Russia. according to figures from the non-governmental European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), That dependency costs about US$118 billion a day..
But with a speed that few thought possible, the EU has just put forward a strategy that could cut its dependence on this energy source by two thirds in the space of one year old.
The so-called REPowerEU plan – a joint European measure to achieve cheaper, safer and more sustainable energy – aims to divest itself of Russian fossil fuel consumption by 2030, although initial action will focus only on gas.
The roadmap essentially proposes finding alternative gas supplies in the coming months and improving the efficiency of energy consumption while redoubling the search for green energy sources in the medium and long term.
“It’s hard, it’s really hard”expressed the vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans.
“But it is possible, if we are willing to go further and faster than we have done before.”
The short term plan
The commission’s new proposal provides for EU countries to be legally required to have minimum levels of stored gas.
The goal is to have gas inventories at 90% capacity by the fall, an increase of 30% from what they are now.
Discussions are underway with current gas suppliers including Norway, Algeria and Azerbaijan to increase the flow.
The plan also foresees end Russia’s dependence on all fossil fuels “well before” 2030.
In the short term, the gas could come from the United States and Africa, although some countries may need to use more coal in the coming months.
The EU also proposes a huge intensification of renewable energy, biogas and hydrogen.
Although gas emissions could increase in the short term, the long-term goal is a faster transition to sustainable sources.
Another key point in the coming months will be the increase in imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from suppliers such as the US, Qatar and Australia.
However, following the announcement of Germany’s plans to build two new LNG terminals to expand supplies, some experts are concerned that this would increase long-term dependence on fossil fuels.
“I think we live in such a complicated time, that there is a lot of political pressure in making these energy decisions,” said Professor Paula Kivimaa, from the Environment Institute of Finland and the University of Sussex, England.
“But we also need to look beyond the next couple of years. If Germany builds new LNG infrastructure, there is a risk that (consumption of that gas) will be set for the foreseeable future.”
As well as diversifying gas supplies, the commission also believes that dependency on Russia will be reduced as pending renewable energy projects come online.
The EU indicates that countries should use the income collected through the emission rights trading program (an economic incentive plan to reduce polluting gases) that has almost doubled since 2020, to pay for these green sources of energy.
However, in the coming months it is likely that more “dirty” energy sources, such as coal, will be needed.
“There is a certain capacity in the energy sector to generate more electricity with coal and biofuels, and there are also some wind and solar products that are being assembled,” explained Carlos Torres Díaz, director of gas and energy market research at consultancy Rystad Energy.
“This could be a way to reduce part of the gas consumption since the energy sector is the largest consumer of gas. This could be achieved within this year.”
Frans Timmermans acknowledged that for some countries it would make sense to switch to coal in the short term, but this could bring its own problems. Europe imports 30% of its coal from Russia.
Alternative supplies from countries like South Africa and Colombia are not readily available.
Switching to coal consumption could also rapidly increase emissions, a trend that is already well established.
“We have already seen carbon emissions increase in the last year, due to an 18% increase in the use of coal for power generation,” said Carlos Torres Días.
“So if this continues through 2022, emissions will continue to rise, because coal-fired power generation produces about twice the emissions of gas-fired generation.”
Long-term accelerated strategy
The European Commission document also stipulates that renewable energy projects must be accelerated and points out that there is great potential in rooftop solar energy panels.
Up to 25% of the block’s electrical power consumption could be generated by panels in homes, farms and commercial buildings, the commission says.
To reduce dependence on natural gas from whatever source, the commission is also calling for a big increase in biogaswhich is produced from food and crop waste.
With additional investment in renewables, this could also lead to a significant increase in green hydrogen which can also be produced by wind and solar methods.
The commission is now asking quadruple hydrogen consumption by 2030.
“They could have tilted toward green hydrogen over the next couple of decades, to 2050, that kind of timescale,” said Mike Foster, chief executive of the British nonprofit Energy and Utilities Alliance.
“Actually, this crisis brought things to a head, and we’re probably going to see decisions made in the 2020s to move everything forward by at least 10 years.”
There could be some dissenting voices when EU leaders meet in Versailles later this week. Everyone will recognize the proposed changes will not come cheap.
Impact on the population
The activists indicate that European governments must ensure that the poorest are protected.
“In parallel with the introduction of sanctions it must put in place a huge support package to ensure that these do not deepen Europe’s continuing energy poverty crisis. and that no one has to choose between heating and foodsaid Mike Davis of Global Witness, an NGO advocating for a full oil and gas embargo against Russia.
“Everyone’s need to be able to heat their homes must come before concerns about economic growth.”
The European Commission will urge member countries to implement health and safety measures in place to protect consumersincluding taxes for extraordinary profits received by energy companies.
However, while the poorest might receive some protection, in the short term they will feel the pain of higher prices.
“I don’t see that there is an easy way to protect consumers from the costs that this whole transition will entail,” concluded Carlos Torres Díaz of Rystad.
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