Cutting ties with Russian Gas - a 10 point plan for Europe

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline
Stefan Sauer/Alamy, February 2022

Would you cut your thermostat by 1 degree C to help reduce the EU’s dependence on imported Russian gas? That is one question asked by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as it published this month a 10-point plan to reduce the EU’s dependence on imported Russian gas. The figures are significant. In 2021, the EU imported over 80% of its natural gas needs and almost half of that came from Russia -155 billion cubic metres (bcm). 

Blogpost written by dr. Iain Todd, Hannah van den Brink and prof. dr. Darren McCauley.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European gas prices have risen sharply, not only increasing the cost of heating but also making electricity generated from gas more expensive. These developments are putting pressure on both consumers and businesses. Europe is therefore in a vulnerable position, with increasing uncertainty in our energy supply. With the rising tensions between Europe and Russia, alternatives to Russian gas are crucial for securing Europe’s energy supply.

However, achieving a unified EU response is not easy, as different member states are dependent on Russian gas to varying degrees. Germany is particularly dependent, but even there, recent announcements have displayed significant resolve, such as the shelving of the recently completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.      

What then is included in the IEA 10-point plan?  The measures set out in the table below suggest how Europe can significantly reduce its dependence on Russian energy sources, with a target of a 1/3 reduction within a year. Significantly, the plan aims to adhere to the European Green Deal, under which EU countries agreed to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

The IEA recommendations coincide with recent research by the authors on the measures needed to deliver a more effective energy transition in the Netherlands and the UK post-COVID, with an emphasis on accelerating both green infrastructure and energy efficiency. One point of departure however is that the IEA do not suggest fiscal reform, presumably because it would be too slow to have an effect in their timescale.  

Further than consistency with the green agenda, the IEA also sets out “emergency actions” which could be taken to further reduce gas imports. These measures could include extending the use of coal and oil for electricity generation, which could come into play if – for example – Russia cut of EU gas supply completely. But they would not be consistent with climate change objectives and are not included in the plan at this time.

In seeking to reduce dramatically its dependence on Russian gas, the EU faces a major challenge. The crisis has shone a bright spotlight on Europe’s vulnerable position on energy security. This is an important topic that requires discussion, and the effects urge us to consider alternatives to the Russian energy supply. The IEA’s 10-point plan presents an important step towards fulfilling this goal.

​​​​​​​IEA’s 10-point plan:

  1. Do not sign any new gas supply contracts with Russia – the EU’s contract with Russia’s Gazprom expires next year and should not be renewed.
  2. Replace Russian supplies with gas from alternative sources – increased gas supply may be possible from Qatar, Algeria, the US and Azerbaijan (target additional 30 bcm)
  3. Introduce minimum gas storage obligations – increased gas storage in EU member states would provide greater energy security, especially in winter.
  4. Accelerate deployment of renewable energy, like wind and solar – in 2022, the EU wants to increase its power delivered from renewable energy by up to 15%. Consenting processes should be accelerated.
  5. Maximize power generation from bioenergy and nuclear – the closure of nuclear power plants could be postponed (target 13 bcm saved).
  6. Protect vulnerable customers– the EU should protect low-income customers for their high energy bills, which could be achieved by putting temporary high tax measures on energy companies earning high profits.
  7. Speed up the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps – (target saving 2 bcm in the first year.
  8. Accelerate energy efficiency improvements in buildings and industry – This could include accelerating the installation of smart thermostats to reduce energy demand or improve the efficiency of least efficient homes and nonresidential buildings (target saving 2 bcm of gas within a year).
  9. Encourage a temporary thermostat reduction of 1 °C by consumers – asking the public to turn down their heating by even 1 degree Celsius, could reduce demand for natural gas by 10 bcm.
  10. Increase low-emissions grid reliability mechanisms – focusing on adding flexibility to the power grid, this would loosen the links between gas supply and Europe’s electricity security.

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