Push against Russian fuel could accelerate clean energy transition
Efforts to cut off Russian fuels after the country’s invasion of Ukraine have the potential to speed up the global clean energy transition.
While in the short-term nations have been trying to figure out where to buy oil and natural gas from suppliers other than Russia, in the long term it could lead nations in Europe, in particular, to move towards other sources of energy entirely.
“This is a real chance for Europe in particular to accelerate some things that they have already been thinking about that would be climate-friendly,” said Nathan Hultman, a professor at the University of Maryland who has worked on international climate issues in the Biden and Obama administrations.
Russia is a major exporter of fossil fuels, and accounts for 40 percent of the European Union’s natural gas supplies and more than a quarter of its oil.
In March, the European Union (EU) released a plan for reducing its dependence on Russia’s natural gas by two-thirds this year, and to cut off Russian fuels entirely by the end of the decade. The bloc this week separately proposed a ban on Russian coal imports.
The plan for reducing reliance on Russian natural gas included a range of policies to promote clean energy rather than climate-warming fossil fuels, though the plan also calls for finding alternate sources of natural gas.
Specifically, it said it would push more rooftop solar panels and energy efficient heat pumps, speed up permitting for renewable energy projects and promote the import and domestic production of renewable hydrogen energy.
“Some of what the Europeans do like more offshore wind, more hydrogen, all of that’s going to lower the cost of those technologies, and that’s going to be a global benefit,” said David Victor, a professor of innovation and public policy at the University of California, San Diego.
Victor said there is a potential for new energies spurred by the Russian invasion to be jumpstarted, much as solar energy sprang up globally after investments in the United States.
The EU’s plan calls for replacing about 16 to 32 percent of the amount of gas that it imported from Russia last year with hydrogen by 2030.
“I think it will have climate ramifications worldwide as we think about a lot of new technologies coming online,” said Joseph Majkut, director of the Center for International Studies Energy Security and Climate Change Program.
“I think we could see that perhaps with green or renewable hydrogen and a real effort to integrate a lot of renewables into their grid…and matching those renewables with storage to deal with seasonal demand,” he added.
Hultman said he reads the plan as a “roadmap,” and suggested it will be up to individual countries to implement the policies.
The United Kingdom, which is no longer a part of the E.U., this week put forward an “energy security strategy” that aims to bolster energy efficiency, renewables, nuclear and other technologies, but also expand offshore drilling.
Germany said on Friday that it will stop importing Russian gas “very soon” and has also indicated that it would like to speed up its transition to renewables.
But both countries will at least partially continue to rely on energy sources that are bad for the climate, such as coal plants. Plans for the lives of coal plants in both countries have recently been extended.
In the United States, the Biden administration has called on companies to drill for more oil in the near term. President Biden announced a major release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The nation has not implemented many long-term changes to its energy policy following the invasion.
“The U.S. could be doing a lot more to be responding to the moment,” said Majkut, arguing that the country should help Europe increase its energy security, including through supplying more oil and gas.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week warned that significant cuts to climate-warming emissions are necessary over the next eight years to keep warming in line.
It particularly called for “substantial” cuts to fossil fuel usage. But it also noted that the costs of low emissions technologies like wind, solar and batteries have fallen over the past decade and said that innovation has created opportunities for cutting emissions.
“We clearly have the tools available to tackle the climate crisis, but given where they are, they just need to be deployed much more rapidly and [at] a larger scale,” Stephanie Roe, one of the report’s authors, told The Hill ahead of its release.
Hultman said in considering energy policies after the invasion, countries can and should incorporate climate into their middle- and longer-term goals.
“What needs to happen is that yes we’re going to build some new [liquified natural gas] perhaps…but also let’s build out new infrastructure that’s not just gas supply. Let’s build out new infrastructure that uses stuff other than gas to deliver the same services and does it in a cleaner and more long-term sustainable way,” he said.
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