West must step up renewable efforts to end reliance on Russia – European Climate Foundation

By James Reynolds


EFFORTS to diversify European energy imports have failed to reduce reliance on Russia, according to European Climate Foundation fellow Julian Popov.

The European Climate Foundation is an independent organisation working to promote climate and energy policies to help Europe achieve Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In a media briefing last week, Mr Popov urged Europe to adopt a “wartime resource strategy” to promote energy efficiency and immediate invest in renewables to “reduce energy use without damaging the economy”.

The former Bulgarian Minister of Environment and Water warned that switching to liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports would not be enough to offset dependence on oil, gas and coal.

Last week, US energy chief executive Toby Rice claimed that American gas exports could “easily” offset reliance on Russian energy.

But Mr Popov said: “The solutions in the field of energy efficiency are usually ignored because they are small, but their cumulative results could be massive.

“Loft insulation – which is a very simple and low tech approach – could reduce a gas dependency on Russia by 14 per cent.

“Many little things should be packed into a strategy for immediate response.

“[This] can also change the long term trajectory because it will open the opportunities for a new, more ambitious reduction of fossil fuels and dependency on Russia and on gas in general.”

While household energy efficiency increased 29 per cent between 2000 and 2019 in Europe, the continent’s residential sector is still responsible for 40 per cent of its gas demand.

This is worsened by poor insulation, mostly in lower-income households, as space heating makes up 65 per cent of domestic energy consumption.

Mr Popov added that the reduction in use of fossil fuels in Europe was not owing to diversified gas imports, but “very much a result of the low cost of renewable energy, the advancement of energy efficiency and other technologies.”

He argued that attempts to diversify Europe’s energy mix with foreign gas imports had also not helped end reliance on Russia.

“Russia is the second biggest LNG supplier of Europe. So the picture that we see in this war for reducing Russian dependency [is] massive increase of dependence on Russia.”

This month Boris Johnson visited Saudi Arabia with the aim of securing a reliable source of oil and gas but left without concrete assurances.

The Prime Minister is soon expected to unveil plans to expand Britain’s domestic oil, gas and nuclear capacity to offset rising costs for consumers.

Mr Popov said that Ursula von der Leyen’s timeline of five years for Europe to transition away from Russian gas was “realistic”, but that “it would not be a linear trajectory”.

Earlier this month, officials reported that the EU aims to phase out two-thirds of its Russian gas imports by the end of the year.

The European Commission’s plan will involve finding new distributors of gas and increasing energy efficiency.

Antoine Halff, co-founder at Kayrros and a former chief oil analyst at the International Energy Agency, told Redaction Report: “Russia is one of the world’s energy giants, accounting for a huge share of global oil and gas – and coal – supply, and there is simply no way to substitute for it instantly.

“In the short term, the only way to reduce dependence on Russian energy and to blunt the impact of a Russian supply disruption is to pursue a two-pronged approach: demand restraint and import substitution.

“On the demand side, we should take steps to reduce demand for oil and gas in general, such as stricter speed limits on highways to reduce fuel consumption, or encouraging residential users to accept slightly colder temperatures in winter and warmer ones in summer to reduce consumption of natural gas and gas-fired electricity.

“On the supply side, we should boost oil and gas production from other sources – chiefly short-cycle US tight oil and gas production, Saudi spare production capacity – and use releases from strategic petroleum reserves to bridge the gap.

“Higher Iranian oil supplies would help if and when a nuclear deal can be reached.

“Europe could, on paper, cut its dependence on Russian energy by shutting down its factories that run on Russian gas, opting instead to import those energy-intensive goods or services. But this would be pointless if the countries from which it imported those goods continued to rely on Russian energy.

“Renewables have an important role to play in the longer run, but then again their share of the energy mix would have been expected to increase regardless of the invasion, just to help achieve the Paris climate goals. The attack on Ukraine will likely accelerate this trend.”

Kayrros is the leading climate and energy data analytics company, and analyses satellite images to understand the impact of economic activity on the climate.

James Reynolds is a journalist specialising in philosophy, energy and European affairs. You can follow him on Twitter @JimReynoldsUK.


Featured Image: World Bank Photo Collection @ Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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