Politicians blame the wave of prices on a rise in demand for natural gas as the world wakes up from the pandemic, supply disruption caused by maintenance and a summer with less wind than usual, with a drop in wind-generated power.
But really, Europe’s crisis is in the renewable energy sector. The region has invested heavily in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, but it can’t get enough of this green power for the people who need it.
However, there are other incentives to move more quickly to renewable energy sources. A fuller transition would free Europe from the disruption of volatile energy markets and reduce its dependence on other oil and gas suppliers, such as Russia. Europe could prevent its energy security from becoming entangled in geopolitical storms.
Gazprom told CNN Business it was supplying gas to customers abroad “in full compliance with existing contractual obligations” and that deliveries were “at a level close to an all-time high” in the past eight months.
The International Energy Agency said on Wednesday that Russian exports to Europe were lower than in 2019 and that the country could do more to increase stocks for the winter.
“As for the Russian state, there is clear evidence that it uses its gas exports for its own geopolitical profit, it uses that strategically, it is not just a commercial venture,” said Matthew Paterson of the University of Manchester, a professor of international politics. researching climate politics.
“It has used gas to very, very aggressively influence Ukraine, and it appears to be using it in relation to other Eastern Central European states,” he added.
Europe has long been a world leader in renewable energy sources. Last year, the European Union and the United Kingdom used more renewable energy than fossil fuels to generate electricity.
The bloc wants to increase gas imports by 35%, which GEM says runs counter to the EU’s goal of having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Gas is widely regarded as a “cleaner” bridging fuel that can be used during the transition from coal to renewables for electricity. But there are some problems with that. Gas emits less carbon than coal and oil, but it is largely made of methane, a highly harmful greenhouse gas that leaks from pipelines and abandoned wells.
Smart grids are part of the answer
Gas shortages are felt more strongly in the UK, where prices have more than quadrupled and some small energy companies are going bankrupt.
Experts say the current energy crisis – exacerbated by a lack of wind in the North Sea this summer – underscores the need for Europe to build more renewable infrastructure in more places and diversify its resources.
“Part of the answer is to put more windmills in different places because the wind will blow somewhere,” Paterson said.
The UK could explore more around hydropower and solar energy.
“People joke about the UK being grey, but you don’t need to know too much about solar cells to know that’s irrelevant. You get more when it’s sunny, but even in Manchester you’d get plenty of electricity and there is opportunity for that.”
Another part of the answer is on the demand side, not just supply, said Lisa Fischer, who leads the climate think tank E3G’s program on decarbonizing energy systems.
“Europe has been building up renewables quickly, and while we could go faster, what has been slow is critical action to reduce energy demand and make it more flexible,” she told CNN Business.
Smart grids are another big part of the solution, Fischer said. Smart grids are digital electricity networks that can intelligently assess the behavior of their consumers and then respond with the right amount and type of energy needed.
Rooftop solar panels are another option. The British government has flipped several times about subsidies and regulations surrounding roof panels for new homes. Better support in that area would allow residents to store energy themselves and sell unused power back to the national grid, Fischer said.
“If we don’t leverage that, we’ll need fossil fuels as a backup. If we do, it’s certainly possible to run energy systems without a fossil fuel backup,” Fischer added.
China the winner of the new energy world
While a full transition to renewables and low-emission energy will mean greater security independence for countries, the technology to harness the energy will create clear winners and losers in an energy-driven world order.
Exporting and even building this infrastructure will boost China’s position in the world and increase its influence.
“What China has done and likely will continue to do is export the equipment used to produce renewable energy,” said Dominic Chiu, a China analyst with the Albright Stonebridge Group.
“China has also helped countries such as Pakistan build solar farms. Energy infrastructure, renewable and non-renewable, plays an important role in China’s Belt and Road initiative,” Chiu added.
Those dynamics mean there’s still a lot of potential for energy security to get caught up in geopolitical tensions or other more thorny topics.
“That’s a potential concern many countries have with the production of polysilicon in China,” Chiu said, referring to the material used in the panels.
But sanctions have not had a huge impact on the industry, Chiu said.
In addition to the obvious climate benefits, there is an undeniable political advantage of renewables over fossil fuels such as gas. A country like Russia can cut off Europe’s supplies at the push of a button, but once a solar panel or windmill is installed, that’s it: no country can take the sun or the wind from another.