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Russian invasion of Ukraine means green light for green energy in Europe

AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

The invasion of Ukraine has exposed the European vulnerability to the supply of Russian oil and natural gas. Many countries in East and Central Europe receive 40 percent of their natural gas and 25 percent of their oil imports from Russia. As the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine has revealed, Russian President Vladimir Putin is more than willing to use the dependence of Europe on its energy resources to extract political concessions.

This has evoked a dual response from Europe: First, to wean off their costly dependence on Russian energy supply, they are exploring other potential suppliers. Second, their drive toward renewable energy has been accelerated.

The search for alternative sources of energy supply to immediately replace the Russian imports have proven to be more challenging than anticipated. Such large Middle East producers like Saudi Arabia, despite the repeated appeal of the Biden administration to increase production have proven to be reluctant to break the pledge of OPEC+  — in which Russia is the most significant partner — to cut back on production in order to prevent upward pressure on oil prices. The United Arab Emirates that also has some excess capacity, has assumed a posture of neutrality toward Russia, so far has refused to substantially increase its production.

Qatar, which possesses the third-largest gas reserves in the world, after Russia and Iran, has proved unable to provide any immediate relief for Europe: 75 percent of its exports are locked in long-term contracts with Asian countries. While U.S. export of liquified natural gas to Europe has increased, at current levels, they are not large enough to be a substitute for the Russian gas imports. This may partially explain why Germany, the largest importer of Russian natural gas in Europe, announced the cancellation of Nord Stream 2 gas project with Russia. But they also declared they plan to import Russian oil and gas at least until 2027. 

As sanctions against Russia have made its oil and gas toxic, to compensate for the shortfall in the market, such previously sanctioned producers like Venezuela and Iran are now being cultivated as the possible new sources of supply. In the United States, shale oil producers have pledged to increase their production by 1 million barrels a day by the end of the year. 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the president of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference, “We are doubling down on renewables. This will increase Europe’s strategic independence on energy.”

The new EU energy strategy, to be unveiled this month, calls for a 37 percent reduction in fossil fuel use by 2030. The plan calls for reducing the current supply of 40 percent of European natural gas from Russia to half by next year. The goal is to gradually decrease Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Some of the shortfall will be filled by natural gas from the U.S. and other producers in the short-term.

A global leader in investment in renewable energy, Germany approved $68 billion additional spending to accelerate the green infrastructure spending. The goal is to substantially increase the 41 percent of the energy supply and the 46.3 percent of the electricity provision that came from renewables in 2020.

These developments are likely to provide a new momentum in the drive toward sustainable energy. This may be easier said than done. According to TIME magazine, “The E.U. gets 22 [percent] of its energy from natural gas, and to meet its ambitious climate targets, the European Commission says it needs to cut use of the fuel by 37 [percent] by 2030.”

Renewables alone — solar, wind, biofuels — will not fill the gap in the immediate future. In recognition of this, the EU released the Taxonomy Complementary Climate Delegated Act, aka the “green energy plan.” It controversially stated that natural gas projects and nuclear energy should count as “green” under certain conditions. Nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases but carries other environmental risks. 

It is clear from the response to Russia’s aggression that the European Union, and all countries around the world dependent upon fossil fuels, will have to live with higher prices in the short term as they transition toward more renewable — and reliable — sources of energy. The EU situation, where natural gas and nuclear energy are suddenly reclassified as “green,” demonstrates the difficulty of achieving both energy independence and clean energy goals.

Ann Bluntzer, Ph.D., is acting director of the Ralph Lowe Energy Institute at  Texas Christian University.

Manochehr Dorraj, Ph.D., is a professor of international affairs and a faculty fellow of the Ralph Lowe Energy Institute at Texas Christian University

Tags Ann Bluntzer Energy Fossil fuels Manochehr Dorraj Nord Stream 2 oil and gas Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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