By Arab News
By Dr. Paul Sullivan
Natural gas is about 23 percent of the energy use of the EU. Around 85 percent of its natural gas comes from outside the bloc. The political and economic union imports 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia.
Not all EU countries rely heavily on Russian gas. The most dependent are such nations as Finland, Germany, Bulgaria, and Italy. But aeven the less dependent countries became dependent on Russia because they allowed, or were forced to accept, pipelines to be built into western Europe from Russia in earlier days even before the EU.
The pipeline building and dependence on Russia continued after the establishment of the EU. The bloc got itself into this mess with help from the Russians and other former EU leaders.
The bloc’s production of natural gas has been in decline for a very long time. Outside of Russia, it gets piped natural gas from Norway, Algeria, and other places, such as Azerbaijan, but those amounts are far less than what Russia sends to it. It gets liquefied natural gas from the US, Qatar, Algeria, Nigeria, and, of course, Russia. LNG is made by liquefying the gaseous gas and carefully pouring that LNG into a huge carrier. The ship travels to its destination where the LNG is converted back to gaseous gas.
The EU imports about 178 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from Russia through various pipelines and via LNG carriers arriving at its ports. There are not enough alternative pipeline sources, or LNG carrier capacity, or even LNG liquefaction and gasification capacity, to replace Russian gas.
The bloc is stuck for now with a wrenching dependency on imported Russian natural gas.
There are many people now waking up to this dependency on imported Russian gas. It is amazing what a vicious war can do to sharpen minds, especially when importing that gas is partially paying for that war on a neighbor. Yes, Russia gets paid a lot for the natural gas it exports to the EU. And that money surely goes into buying weapons.
The International Energy Agency is one of the best energy groups for data, analysis, and many common-sense approaches. It is a treaty organization started during the oil price shocks of the 1970s. In recent years it has taken on other issues with great focus and energy, such as energy transitions, climate change, and the topic of this article, EU dependence on Russia for natural gas.
I strongly recommend that leaders in the EU, regular people in the EU, and many others throughout the world read their new report A 10-point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas. Not only can a lot be learned on how the EU could reduce its reliance, but other countries could figure out from this short report some ideas on how they could reduce their reliance on other energy sources from countries that may use leverage and threats against them.
What are the 10 points? No new gas supply contracts with Russia, replace Russian supplies with gas supplies from other places, increase gas storage, accelerate the deployment of new wind and solar projects, increase electricity production from nuclear and bioenergy.
It also calls for the development of policies to shelter vulnerable groups from energy price shocks, the use of geothermal heat pumps, improved energy efficiency in buildings and industry, nudge people to use their thermostats better, and the speeding up the diversification of power and other energy systems while decarbonizing them.
These 10 points make a lot of sense. However, none of these will happen overnight. Some things like adjusting thermostats can be done quickly. Japan did this overnight after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. Protecting vulnerable groups from price shocks is an obvious thing to do. The poor and otherwise vulnerable, such as the elderly and very young, are at the greatest risk from supply shortages and price shocks.
Replacing Russian gas supplies with other sources could take a lot longer than most may think. Where will the replacement gas come from? New supplies, supply chains, and transport and consumer networks would need to be developed. These are possible but are not immediate answers.
Increasing gas storage will take time, but it is possible. There could be gas storage coalitions with the EU and within the bloc. Increasing nuclear and bioenergy is also possible but will take time. Bioenergy will be a bit faster to ramp up. The focus here should be on waste-to-energy and bioenergy sources that are not heavy water users and are environmentally friendly. Although some bioenergy sources are very heavy water users and polluters. Bioenergy also must be done in a regenerative way. Sustainable is not enough.
Geothermal heat pumps can be used anywhere. It will take time to refit buildings and construct district and city heat pump systems. But these are possible. Speeding up the diversification of energy systems is needed everywhere given what we may face in both energy and environmental security.
Energy exporters should look at this to see how they might better navigate the treacherous energy policy roads that lie ahead. There will be a need for nuance and thoughtfulness in the development of oil and gas policies by the exporting states— possibly even more than for the oil and gas importing states. What Russia has been doing is tainting many others in the business in the eyes of many consumers and their leaders. Russia is bad for the energy business.
Recent events in Ukraine are a wake-up call for all of us. The recent clarity of thinking on how vulnerable the EU and many other countries are to outside sources of energy from potential, or perceived, enemies is another wake-up call.
Many other alarms are going off in my head concerning what is happening in Ukraine, the EU, and Russia — but those are for another article. The time to consider what to do next is now. The IEA points towards some very good directions in its report. But it is just the beginning of what will need to be done.