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How can Europe combat its energy crisis by using innovative solutions for practising sustainable energy consumption?

Garima Bharadwaj
Garima Bharadwaj

7th October 2022

Introduction 

Europe is on the verge of an energy crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but sustainable energy conservation solutions or practices could change the game. More than ever, European nations are currently seeking clean energy alternatives to lessen their reliance on fossil fuels. Reduced natural gas imports from Russia and gaining “strategic autonomy” have been major objectives due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. 

There are a number of small and large-scale solutions that are already available that could assist nations in meeting their emission targets and reducing energy imports in the short term. However, large industries and strategic infrastructures require a long-term strategy to develop an environmentally friendly and sustainable clean energy supply chain and massive investments to reorient themselves. In this blog, we’ll talk about how Europe might battle its energy issue by implementing cutting-edge strategies for practising sustainable energy usage.

Energy Crisis in Europe – Explained!

First, we can talk about Russia’s global influence as one of the top energy suppliers. Russia is a significant player in the world’s energy landscape. It competes with Saudi Arabia and the United States for the top rank among the top three crude producers in the world. Oil and gas profits, which accounted for 45% of Russia’s federal budget in 2021, are a major source of income for the country. In addition, Russia possesses the greatest gas reserves and is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the world, after the United States. Russia is the largest gas exporter in the world. The nation generated 762 bcm of natural gas in 2021 and exported 210 bcm of it via pipeline.

Because of its reliance on Russian energy, Europe has long been unable to take decisive action against Russia. However, the crisis between Russia and Ukraine is currently forcing a transition unlike any other and pushing the European Union to create arrangements for a long-term split from Russian oil and gas, according to European policymakers. European countries are experiencing an energy crisis as a result of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, as the continent’s supply of oil and gas has been decreasing for a number of reasons. 

Additionally, due to a combination of high demand and insufficient supply, crude oil and gas prices have been skyrocketing recently all over the world. However, Europe has been particularly hard striking because the continent relies so heavily on imported oil and gas for its fuel requirements. Russia is a significant source of crude oil for the nations of Europe. Energy supplies for the European nations are largely dependent on Russia, with Russian gas exports to Europe accounting for up to 40% of all supplies before the invasion. 

After Russia restricted supplies ahead of the invasion and as concerns about supply interruptions rose, gas prices in Europe have skyrocketed in recent months, fueling inflation and a cost of living problem for many of the continent’s nations. However, Europe is attempting to lessen its dependency on Russian gas in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of this year.

Essential measures to lessen Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas and innovative solutions for promoting sustainable energy use

The executive branch of the European Union will step up efforts to reduce the republic’s reliance on Russian gas in reaction to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The EU executive intends to urge member states to implement the energy and climate change measures into effect as quickly as possible. Additionally, it will advocate for more energy source diversity and stricter regulations for gas storage. The blueprint includes the following actions:

Looking for alternatives to Russian gas

To combat the energy crisis, the EU pledged to cut its reliance on Russian gas imports by two-thirds within a year. However, it has been challenging to reach a consensus on other measures, such as an outright import ban. According to Al Jazeera and the Financial Times, Germany depends on Russia for over half of its gas supply and recently had to restrict gas consumption in electricity production and urge residents to practice energy conservation after Moscow curtailed certain shipments. 

In fact, Germany is being forced to employ additional coal-fired power plants as a result of the supply problem. According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, the country is trying to help fill storage facilities in time for the winter by expanding its gas exports to continental Europe. Additionally, the EU is making plans for long-term energy independence. Just a few weeks after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February, Brussels launched the REPowerEU plan to remove all imports of Russian energy by 2030 fully.

Green transition

The REPowerEU initiative aims to secure alternative energy sources while also accelerating the green revolution by increasing investment in renewable energy. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU had already started to move away from fossil fuels. With the help of its 2019 Green Deal, it hopes to more than halve EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions in Europe by 2050. According to Reuters, the government is attempting to speed up this process by permitting some renewable energy projects to acquire permits within a year rather than having to wait possibly two years. The European Commission will suggest that nations designate “go-to zones” of land or water for renewable energy, where such projects would have a minimal impact on the environment. 

Furthermore, plans to mandate that all states dedicate a minimum amount of land to onshore wind farms were approved by the German cabinet. And on June 27, EU energy ministers endorsed legislation to encourage renewable energy sources and preserve energy, with the goal of generating 40% of that energy by 2030 and reducing overall energy use by 9% below forecasted levels.

Reducing Energy Consumption

The Commission also seeks considerable improvements in energy efficiency as part of the package of measures. The simplest, quickest, and smartest method to lessen Europe’s dependency on Russian fossil fuel imports is to save energy. From consumers and enterprises to all industrial sectors, people can all readily contribute to lowering energy consumption. These individual activities will have a good effect on costs when combined with energy efficiency measures, which will immediately lower their energy bills, strengthen our economy, and quicken the EU’s transition to sustainable energy.

In comparison to 2020 levels, it is aiming to reduce energy use by 13%, which is a higher goal than its prior 9% decrease. Member states are expected to deploy fiscal tools, such lower taxes on energy-efficient heating systems, to promote better efficiency and energy savings. The Commission has also listed a number of suggested behavioural changes, such as decreasing heating and utilising public transportation more frequently, that it claims might help reduce the demand for oil and gas by 5%.

The European Commission’s REPowerEU plan also includes energy-saving strategies and steps to lessen reliance on Russian fuels. Among all European nations, Italy is one of the nations that actively promotes energy conservation in homes and workplaces, requiring minimum and maximum temperatures for heating and cooling. However, there is still a disconnect between aspiration and actuality. 

According to the IMF study, several nations have regulations that severely restrict how wholesale costs are passed along to consumers. A preferable option would be to permit greater passthrough to encourage conservation while giving those that can’t afford higher prices tailored compensation.

Industries’ transition to renewable energy sources

By switching to cleaner energy sources, boosting industrial competitiveness, and fostering global technology leadership, replacing coal, oil, and gas in industrial processes would help reduce Russia’s reliance on fossil fuels. By 2030, the industry may be able to save 35 bcm of natural gas in addition to the Fit for 55 targets by electrifying, becoming more energy efficient, and utilising renewable energy sources. The largest gas reductions—nearly 22 bcm—could come from non-metallic minerals, cement, glass and ceramic manufacture, chemical manufacturing, and refineries. By 2030, it’s anticipated that about 30% of the EU’s primary steel production will have been decarbonized using renewable hydrogen. The industrial sector will be crucial in accelerating the manufacturing of the tools and parts required to swiftly alter our energy system.

Scaling up low-carbon energy resources 

The EU intends to raise its renewable energy targets, aiming for 45% of its total energy mix from renewable sources by 2030, up from the previous target of 40%. By 2030, the solar photovoltaic capacity will have doubled, reaching 600 gigawatts. In 2021, the EU’s solar photovoltaic capacity was about 165 gigawatts. However, unless more solar and wind energy are available, a brief surge in the use of coal and nuclear power is required to close the gap. In the following five to ten years, as the region reduces its reliance on Russian oil and gas, it is anticipated that the EU will burn around 5% more coal, one of the dirtiest fuels, to generate electricity. The group will still achieve its carbon reduction goals, according to officials. Along with an additional 10 million tonnes of imports, the European Commission plans to produce 10 million tonnes of hydrogen domestically by 2030. This is intended to take the place of gas, coal, and oil in transportation and other hard-to-decarbonize industries. It has allocated €200 million ($210 million) for this type of research.

Launching new wind and solar projects

The EU’s output from these renewable sources is already anticipated to increase by over 100 terawatt-hours (TWh), or more than 15%, in 2022 as a result of record-breaking additions to solar PV and wind power capacity and a return to typical weather conditions. A concerted strategic effort to expedite additional renewable capacity expansions might produce an additional 20 TWh over the course of the following year. 

The majority of them would be utility-scale wind and solar PV projects, whose completion timelines might be accelerated by addressing permitting bottlenecks. This includes establishing clear timelines for the permitting process, streamlining and clarifying roles among various permitting agencies, increasing administrative capacity, and digitising application processes. Lowering consumer bills may be possible with hastened rooftop solar PV system implementation. In comparison to the IEA’s base case prediction, a short-term grant programme covering 20% of installation costs may treble the rate of investment at the cost of about EUR 3 billion. This might result in a 15 TWh annual increase in rooftop solar PV system production.

Accelerate the conversion of gas boilers to heat pumps

In place of boilers that burn gas or other fossil fuels, heat pumps provide a very effective and affordable alternative to heat homes. A total additional expenditure of EUR 15 billion would be needed to double the rate at which heat pumps are now installed in the EU in order to accelerate planned deployment and save an additional 2 billion cubic metres of gas in the first year. The expansion of heat pump systems can be facilitated by targeted investment support in addition to current policy frameworks. To maximise energy efficiency gains and save expenses overall, this is best done in conjunction with improvements to the dwellings themselves. Heat pumps are a great alternative to gas boilers and furnaces in the industrial sector, albeit implementation may take longer to scale up.

Enhance building and industrial energy efficiency 

Energy efficiency is a potent tool for safe transitions to clean energy, but it frequently takes time to have a significant impact. In this plan, the EU thinks about how to accelerate the rate of progress, concentrating on actions that can have an immediate impact. Automatic heating controls (smart thermostats) are being installed in many homes to lower energy costs and enhance home comfort, and this straightforward technique may be swiftly scaled up. At the cost of EUR 1 billion, installing three times as many homes as are currently built each year would result in a 200 mcm annual reduction in the amount of gas needed to heat dwellings. Through currently running programmes, such as home subsidies or utility obligation schemes, these devices can be encouraged.

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Conclusion

Even prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the EU had started to move away from fossil fuels. It launched the Green Deal, which aims to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions in Europe by 2050. Beyond the steps previously taken, more should be done to prepare for crises and reduce further risk. Governments are already stepping up efforts to secure supplies from alternative sources and international LNG markets, continue to ease infrastructure bottlenecks for gas import and distribution, plan to share supplies in an emergency across the EU, take decisive action to promote energy conservation while safeguarding vulnerable households, and create intelligent gas rationing programmes. Now is the time for Europe to draw on the resolve and cooperation shown during the pandemic to overcome the difficult situation it faces today.


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