Experts are suggesting that urgent measures can significantly reduce the need for gas in the European Union. The European Commission is preparing a shift in policy primarily directed at decreasing the reliance on Russian gas, with a focus on renewables and energy efficiency.
The ink on the European Union’s new green taxonomy has barely dried, but the administration in Brussels is already preparing measures to cut fossil gas consumption and imports. The European Commission delayed the release of its communication on energy prices to the other institutions to add guidelines for a faster shift to clean sources.
Natural gas has been declared a transitional fuel last month. Now, with the start of the war in Ukraine, the EU wants to reduce dependence on imports from Russia and diversify supply, primarily by purchasing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from other sources, according to the draft document seen by Euractiv.
The International Energy Agency estimated that the EU can reduce its reliance on Russian gas by a third or half by next winter
Experts that participated in a media briefing on energy security in Europe said a lot can be done by the start of the next heating season. They recommended measures and incentives to ramp up the rate of insulation in buildings and the replacement of gas boilers with alternative technologies such as heat pumps, home batteries and loft insulation.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the main tools, especially for the replacement of coal, but citizens should also be encouraged to lower the heating temperature in their homes and save hot water, for instance during showers, which can also bring massive savings, they agreed at the event organized by the European Climate Foundation.
Every green kilowatt-hour reduces dependency on Russian gas
The European Commission is pushing for a legal requirement for member states to secure a minimum seasonal level of gas storage. Other measures should include a massive deployment of biogas and hydrogen and purchases of green hydrogen from abroad, the document reveals. EU officials recently said the 27-member bloc counts on Africa for much of the demand.
“Every kilowatt-hour of electricity Europe generates from solar, wind, hydropower or biomass reduces our dependency on Russian gas and other energy sources,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated on March 1.
The International Energy Agency has just released a plan that would help the EU reduce its reliance on Russian gas by a third or half by next winter and cover 10% of overall imports. The organization recommended a windfall profit tax to support vulnerable groups struggling with energy bills.
Renewables, energy efficiency now part of energy security concept
“In the European Commission communication draft, there is a strong link between the EU Green Deal and the way to decrease our reliance on gas; there is a mention that the implementation of the Fit for 55 would lead to a reduction of the EU’s reliance on gas by 23% by 2030. More broadly, it’s really starting a paradigm shift on energy security; in the past energy security was seen through the lens of security of supply and diversification of supply sources. Now there’s a broader concept of energy security, which includes renewables, energy efficiency,” Raphaël Hanoteaux, Senior Policy Advisor on Gas Politics at think tank E3G, said today at the media briefing.
Hanoteaux: The European Commission’s draft document lacks urgency on clear measures such as funding and issues like labor shortage
According to the draft, the proposals have been strengthened, he added. The communication is likely to be published next week. However, it lacks urgency on clear measures such as funding and issues including labor shortage, in Hanoteaux’s view. He said hydrogen imports would require a lot of renewable energy diplomacy and that the competition for LNG is strong as 70% are long-term contracts.
Green label for gas needs revision
Jan Rosenow, Director of European Programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), sees the need to rethink the EU green taxonomy in the area of natural gas, which is used for heating, industrial and electricity production.
“It is always difficult to suggest a short term fix for a long-term structural problem. The most important gas-using sector is actually the building sector, which is often forgotten in the discussion,” he said and estimated that gas boilers shouldn’t be installed anymore.
Solar and wind power are both very efficient at lowering gas demand and electricity prices for consumers, Rosenow pointed out. Wind has a great advantage, it produces mainly during winter time when gas demand also peaks, he stressed.
Italy can halve Russian gas imports within one year with urgent measures
Before calling for a new dash for gas, all alternatives for gas reduction and substitution need to receive top priority along with the exploitation of existing infrastructure, said Luca Bergamaschi, Co-founder and Executive Director for International Affairs at ECCO. The think tank released an analysis in which it estimated that collective action supported by a public communication campaign and combined with faster development of renewables can replace the equivalent of 50% of Russian gas imports within a year.
“When we look at citizens, there is new awareness and responsibility to act in the face of this crisis and war on the continent. There are new opportunities to engage with citizens. This is potentially the biggest cultural shift that we see,” Bergamaschi asserted. He noted that the oil crisis from the 1970s brought a major push toward energy savings.
Energy crisis opens way for cleaner technologies
Former Minister of Environment and Water of Bulgaria Julian Popov said the 1973 oil embargo initiated massive development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, particularly wind power.
“If we look at countries that are reducing their coal dependency, we see that they don’t replace it with gas, they replace it with combinations of renewables and energy efficiency. This gives us the formula of how we should treat energy security at the moment,” he underscored.
Accelerating the green transition reduces exposure to importing fossil fuels but also develops technologies and solutions that are now available to be scaled up very quickly, according to Popov. In many cases they are now much cheaper than traditional energy sources, he said.