Ending the EU’s reliance on Russian gas

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has spurred Europe into drastic action over its energy supplies.

This week the European Commission unveiled proposals –REPowerEU – to boost renewables and quadruple current 2030 targets for green hydrogen supplies.

The EU’s executive arm said it could erase a huge share of its dependency on Russia by tapping new gas supplies, significantly increasing reserves for next winter and accelerating efforts to be more energy efficient.

The proposals are part of a new strategy to cut the EU’s reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds as soon as the end of this year.

“By the end of this year, we can replace 100 billion cubic metres of gas imports from Russia. That is two-thirds of what we import from them,” European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans told reporters in Strasbourg, France this week.

The proposal, which is not binding, calls for 90% of gas storage capacity to be filled by 30 September, up from some 30% now.

The recommendations from Brussels came just before a meeting of EU leaders who will discuss ways to cut Europe’s energy ties to Russia for the long term.

Here we present a summary of the new energy plan’s main proposals.

REPowerEU is based on two tracks:

First: the EU will diversify supply and bring in more renewable gases.

  • With more LNG and pipeline imports, it plans to replace 60 bcm of Russian gas within the next 12 months.
  • By doubling sustainable production of biomethane it seeks to replace another 18 bcm, using the Common Agricultural Policy to help farmers become energy producers.
  • The EU also wants to increase the production and import of renewable hydrogen. A Hydrogen Accelerator will develop integrated infrastructure and offer all Member States access to affordable renewable hydrogen. 20 million tonnes of hydrogen can replace 50 bcm of Russian gas.

In parallel, the EU said it must accelerate its clean energy transition, noting that renewables make it more independent, and they are more affordable and reliable than the volatile gas market.

  • It intends to put millions more photovoltaic panels on the roofs of homes, businesses, and farms. It must also double the installation rate of heat pumps over the next 5 years.
  • By the end of this year, almost 25% of Europe’s current electricity production could come from solar energy.
  • The EU said it needs to speed up permitting procedures to grow its on- and offshore wind capacity, and rollout large-scale solar projects. This, it claimed, is a matter of overriding public interest.

It also needs to prepare for next winter: by October, gas storage facilities in the EU must be filled up to 90% capacity. And the Commission said it is ready to support joint procurement of gas.

Dangerous dependency

“Putin’s war on Ukraine has made it absolutely clear that we need to move even faster, to reshape the European energy system and end our dangerous dependency on Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible,” said Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson.

“This is not the first time we face this truth in the EU. After 2009, when Russia stopped gas deliveries to Ukraine, we have worked hard to diversify our supplies. That year, LNG imports were just over 4 bcm per month. Now, it’s 10 bcm with potential to grow. Since 2009, eight new LNG terminals have come online in the EU.”

Thanks to these efforts, the EU is in a much better position than it was five or ten years ago, he added, saying there is a need to protect our people and businesses from the impact of exceptionally high prices:

“Energy prices have been surging since last Autumn, aggravated by Gazprom’s unusual behaviour – keeping gas flows low despite high prices. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has added to the price pressure. And markets are also nervous about the risk of Russian retaliation.”

Supply interruption

Another immediate concern is to make sure that Europe is ready for an interruption of gas supply.

The EU says it has assessed possible scenarios for partial and full disruption of gas flows from Russia. Thanks to the mild weather and increased LNG supplies, it says it expects to be on the safe side for this winter, but needs to get ready for the next one.

For that, the EU says it is crucial to ensure that  gas storage is filled when the next heating season starts. In April, it will propose legislation to require that the storage is at least 90% full by 1 October each year. The proposal will also identify gas storage as critical infrastructure and tackle ownership risks.

Biofuels and hydrogen

Looking ahead, the EU notes that there is a clear need for a more coordinated EU policy on gas – on buying and storing, and also diversification of supply is important and improving infrastructure, as it seeks to move away from Russian gas.

The other side of the coin is reducing the need for fossil gas in the first place – by boosting alternatives and saving energy, according to Commissioner Simson:

“This means more biomethane and renewable hydrogen, more renovation, heat pumps and solar panels on rooftops. It means getting serious about saving energy, which should become everyone’s contribution to solving this current crisis.”

“Energy prices have been surging since last Autumn, aggravated by Gazprom’s unusual behaviour – keeping gas flows low despite high prices. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has added to the price pressure. And markets are also nervous about the risk of Russian retaliation.”

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