Can the war in Ukraine accelerate the energy transition in Europe?

Can the war in Ukraine accelerate the energy transition in Europe?

While the EU is 44% dependent on Russian gas, will the crisis be an opportunity to review the energy future of European countries and to invest in renewable energies for EU countries dependent on Russian gas? Researchers, interviewed by franceinfo, want to believe it.
While the EU is 44% dependent on Russian gas, will the crisis be an opportunity to review the energy future of European countries and to invest in renewable energies for EU countries dependent on Russian gas? Researchers, interviewed by franceinfo, want to believe it.

“We will end our dependence on Russian gas and oil as soon as possible.” The German Chancellor’s statement to the Bundestag on Wednesday March 23 in reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine was strong. But this transformation “cannot be done overnight” and a stoppage of imports could cause “a recession” , immediately warned Olaf Scholz, crystallizing in one sentence the challenge facing European countries. To counter the effects of the war on the prices of its energy , comparable  “to the oil shock of 1973” according to the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, Europe must react quickly to do without Russian hydrocarbons. An emergency that could accelerate the energy transition. Explanations.

If the question of dependence on Russian hydrocarbons is so pressing, it is because Moscow is by far the leading supplier of gas to the European Union , at 44%, but also of oil, at 25%. Behind its figures hide significant disparities:  “In Germany, 60% of imported gas is Russian, in Hungary it is 70%, while in France, this figure is only 17%” , explains Nicolas Goldberg , energy expert at Colombus Consulting. The situation is similar for oil, the countries of Eastern Europe being much more dependent on it than those of the West.

What would be the impact of a ban on the import of Russian hydrocarbons? “For oil, it’s less of a problem because it’s possible to get supplies elsewhere ,” says Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, researcher at the Delors Institute. As black gold is transported by barrel, it is easier to change supplier or redirect production to another country. “We have refineries in Saudi Arabia, and instead of taking Saudi oil and sending it to Asia, we will send it to France ,” explained Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, on RTL .

Difficult to find an alternative to Russian gas

The gas issue is much trickier for the EU. Firstly because “the networks are physical” and “it is more complicated to obtain gas elsewhere than in Russia” , notes Nicolas Goldberg. Another problem:  “imports of liquefied natural gas” , the only alternative to gas pipelines, “have already been greatly increased since September 2021. We do not have much additional margin” , estimates Thomas Pellerin-Carlin.

Above all, “some EU countries are particularly dependent on gas for their industry, their electricity production or for heating” , recalls Thomas Pellerin-Carlin. On this point, “Finland, even if the majority of its gas is Russian, is much less dependent on this fossil energy than France” , underlines the researcher, since “like Sweden, it only has a small network of gas and has extensively renovated its homes since the 1990s .

France, on the other hand, has “not drawn the consequences of the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014” , gas “being the second final energy [i.e. the quantity of energy consumed, in opposition to primary energy, which corresponds to the energy present in nature] in terms of importance, after oil” , adds the researcher from the Delors Institute.

A step towards more sobriety?

Even without an import ban, the sharp rise in gas prices, which influences the price of electricity, is likely to have a deleterious effect on the EU economy . Faced with this, two solutions exist: the first “would be to obtain supplies elsewhere” , notes Nicolas Goldberg, “but Norway and Algeria are already at the maximum of their production capacities” . The United States has promised the EU to increase its deliveries of liquefied gas, but the amount mentioned only corresponds to “10% of Russian imports” , says Politico.

The second option is “to adopt more sober modes of consumption” , explains economist Carine Sebi, specialist in the energy sector. “We must declare a general mobilization of society to save gas” , abounds Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, who suggests taking inspiration from the saving measures put in place after the oil shock of 1973, such as “the end of the lighting in the windows at night” or “lower the heating of the dwellings” .

Renewables to be developed

But reorienting the energy system to do without Russian gas will take time, a pace that is difficult to reconcile with the urgency of the crisis in Ukraine. “Look at the example of the United States , intimate Carine Sebi. The country took decades after the first oil shocks to find a solution to their problem of energy independence. The development of unconventional hydrocarbons, in particular gas and oil of shale, only started from the 2000s. 

The prospects for the development of shale gas and oil, banned in France, being limited in Europe, other sources of energy will have to be found. Elsewhere in the world, some countries are turning to coal to counter the consequences of the crisis, explains Le Monde . But in the EU, the Russian gas crisis could accelerate the energy transition. In a plan explaining how Europe could do without Russian gas , the International Energy Agency also suggested that European leaders “accelerate the deployment of solar and wind installations” .

The European countries have no choice, according to Nicolas Goldberg: “willingly or unwillingly, we are going to have to save energy and massively develop renewable energies to be independent of Russia”.  The question is a matter of common sense, for Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, who believes that accelerating the energy transition is “fundamental for the economy”.

“It makes more sense to renovate houses rather than finance gas purchases for 5 years. As long as we depend on gas, we depend on many things that we do not control.”

Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, researcher at the Delors Institute 

The crisis as an electroshock

Does Europe have the means to go faster, while some countries, such as  France, are lagging behind on their climate objectives  ? “We have all the roadmaps at our disposal to implement the energy transition” , insists Carine Sebi. The EU Member States will be able to rely in particular on the climate package, called the Green Pact , which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. The researcher  “is hopeful” that the crisis acts as an electroshock, while some States ask for a pause in the objectives for the duration of the war.

Some countries have already announced that they want to speed up the timetable for their transition. This is the case of Germany, reports Euronews, whose government wants to accelerate the passage of an energy law and which aims for 80% of renewables in the electricity mix by 2028. significant challenge, as the ruling coalition prepares to reopen coal-fired power plants in case gas runs out.

The acceleration of the transition will depend above all on the political will of the Twenty-Seven. “I hope that the plan presented by the EU which aims to do without Russian gas by 2027 will be applied” , breathes Nicolas Goldberg, even though the European executive, under pressure from Germany, had chosen to call gas “transitional energy” a few months ago.

Thomas Pellerin-Carlin is more suspicious: “The direction given is positive, but it’s far too long. We have to do 10 times more than what we are currently doing.”  A reality difficult to accept for European governments, while energy prices are already soaring.

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.