In a first step toward creating an integrated energy grid, the European Commission last week allocated € 200 million ($223 million) for cross-border energy infrastructure projects aimed at increasing the efficiency of energy transportation across European Union members. While these grants signal momentum toward a desired “Energy Union," such a goal remains largely aspirational.
 
Officially proposed in 2015, the “Energy Union” seeks to combine modern energy infrastructure, smart grids, and the free flow of energy across state borders in order to enhance reliability, promote energy efficiency, diversify supplies, open up markets to more competition, and increase security and safety. Proponents suggest infrastructure investments would also result in significant cost savings over time and would better leverage geographical areas better suited to differing forms of renewables.
 

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While most of us would consider EU countries to be largely integrated, many countries remain quite disconnected when it comes to energy. Centuries of differences, competition, and armed conflict have, in some cases, resulted in an insular approach in energy products and services. Today, it is relatively easy to travel across Europe by train, automobile, or aircraft, but the same simply cannot be said when it comes to the movement of electricity, natural gas, or other energy commodities - at least not yet.
 
Another significant driver remains energy dependency upon Russia given that 33.5 percent of crude oil and 39 percent of natural gas is imported from Russia. While dependencies on the old Soviet Union were thought to have been a concern of the past, recent instability, and the willingness by the Kremlin to utilize energy as a foreign policy instrument has once again cast a pall over supplies. Senior Resident Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, Douglas Hengel said is best at an event last December hosted by the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii), of which I am the Chairman.
 
“This dependence leaves these countries vulnerable to supply disruptions whether it is political reasons or commercial disputes or failure of infrastructure. Let’s not forget that Russia has had a tendency to use energy as a foreign policy tool.”
 
The creation of an integrated European energy market would enable Europe to diversify suppliers, a common strategy in any market made even more important given Mr. Putin’s sabre rattling. Diversification of supplies also generally means better pricing due to market competition. One need only look toward Lithuania where adding eggs to their proverbial basket resulted in a 25 percent price cut from Russia for natural gas, practically overnight
 
My most recent publication in the European Energy Journal titled, “An Energy (Dis)Union: Challenges and Opportunities in Europe’s Emerging Energy Market,” conducts a holistic analysis of the energy union and provides a framework upon which to move forward with the project. The paper provides major recommendations to improving Europe's current energy situation including the establishment of a single institution to implement and oversee the creation of the Union, mechanisms to encourage integration deadlines, beginning with the creation of interconnected regional grids which will ultimately form the basis of a connected Europe. 
 
While many of us might be tempted to consider this a European issue, the U.S. can also benefit from an interconnected Europe. Low fossil fuel prices coupled with a supply glut could help stabilize the domestic energy market while also promoting cleaner burning fossil fuels like natural gas.
 
As Europe moves away from Russian energy independence through the creation of a European energy network, it is likely Europe will look to America, for natural gas and renewables. Growing the domestic renewable industry will result in lowered production and deployment costs for us here at home and will help serve as a catalyst for continued innovation in the green space.
 
Maintaining the status quo benefits only those whose interests rely upon the past, but moving forward toward an integrated energy market in Europe not only makes sense for the continent, it ultimately accelerates us all toward our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also stimulating our economies here at home and abroad. Now that’s a win-win for us all.

McCown was first acting administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) from 2003 to 2007.