EU without Russian supply: a way to clean energies?

Copyright FT | Financial Times

by Laura Fernández

Following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, the European Union has imposed several sanctions in an attempt to put an end to the conflict. While sanctions have been applied, European countries remain dependent on Russian supply of oil and gas, their two main sources of energy. Driven by the desire to cut the largest source of income for the Russian economy, countries have started questioning this excessive reliance and asked themselves the following questions: can Europe really step away from Russian energy? If so, what other options does the European Union have? And looking at the degrading status of our planet, could now be the moment to put aside non-renewable energy sources such as oil and gas and move towards green energies?

The EU dependency on Russian energy supply

Currently, the European Union’s imports from Russia represent a total of 62%, accounting for 25% in oil imports, 45‰ in natural gas and 44‰ in hard coal (European Commission, 2022). As we can observe in the map below (Miniszewski, 2022), this dependency on Russian fossil fuels differs between countries, central and eastern European countries being the most vulnerable, as we can observe in the map below. 

European Union countries gas imports from Russia | Copyright Al Jazeera | Source Eurostat

Imported gas from Russia covers the total consumption of gas in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, and Finland. It also corresponds to half of the gas provision for Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.

An energy-independent Europe: the answer to Russian threats

In light of the EU-imposed sanctions, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, threatened several countries, including Poland and Bulgaria, to cut their energy supplies. As a consequence of these events, and driven by the desire not to finance Ukraine’s invasion, national governments swiftly agreed that Europe should become energetically independent. This willingness by EU member states raises one main question: can the European Union really step away from Russian energy? What options do we have?

The surge in energy prices and high volatility seen since last autumn already triggered calls last year for reducing our dependence on energy imports. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has taken this debate further and prompted strategic EU policy changes.” (European Commission, 2022)

On March 8th, the Commission published the REPowerEU plan, a plan outlining the measures to drastically reduce Russian fossil fuels imports by the year 2023 and reach in the end complete energy independence (European Commission, 2022).

This plan has been highly discussed for his radical character. The ban on Russian fossil fuels would be especially difficult due to the fact that some countries have tried to build up a sufficiently diversified energy mix in the past but without success (Miniszewski, 2022).  According to several national governments, indeed, their countries could not handle the consequences of an immediate boycott to Russia because this would potentially throw Europe into a recession.

In order to liberate itself from Russian fossil fuels, the EU will have to concentrate its efforts on diversification, substitution and reduction. Its Russian energy imports could be replaced by fuel coming from the US, Iran; in addition, the EU could re-shape supply chains from Norway, the UK, Denmark, and Canada. Nevertheless, obtaining fossil fuels from other countries is not the only proposition on the table. Concerned with climate change, boosting the production of green energy in the EU would be one of the best responses to deal with both situations at one time. So, is it now the moment to go green on energies?

“(…) Renewables give us the freedom to choose an energy source that is clean, cheap, reliable and ours.” Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission

The substitution of fossil fuel energies with renewable energies is measure put forward by the Paris Agreement that cannot be ignored any longer. RePower Eu plan sets out the priority to reduce dependence on imports through the two central pillars of EU energy policy: the ramp up of clean energies and the boosting of energy efficiency thanks to wind and solar power.

In May 2022, the Commission will present strategies based on solar, hydrogen and biothame sources to respond the energy demand from Europe. Conscious of the challenges that renewables energies require in order to be applied, a recommendation on fast permitting for renewable energy projects will be disclosed in order to support the use of all flexibilities already granted by EU legislation, thus allowing it to remove remaining obstacles. (European Commission, 2022)

However, this is not enough. Although efforts and goals for the next decades have been established, the European Union continues to contemplate non-renewable energies as viable options for national energy mixes due to their lower price. But that cannot be an excuse any more. The technology, particularly in wind and solar energy, has developed drastically through the years, to the point that renewables have become cheaper than fossil fuels, thus representing a better investment.

To conclude, even if the energy crisis is provoking several economic difficulties, we need to tackle urgently the issue of climate change and make it our number one priority. The energy supply must depend 100‰ on renewable energies in order for society to have a sustainable future.