The EU And Energy Security

Aaron Fenton-Blake

Major Russian Gas Pipelines

Major Russian Gas Pipelines – Sam Bailey via Wikimedia Commons

This year the crisis in Ukraine has threatened EU gas supplies and along with this the recent drop in oil prices has threatened member nations’ resolve to move away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable and self sufficient energies. The crisis in Ukraine has particularly refocused the attention on the EU’s energy security to such a level that the EU performed stress tests on its ability to function under a prolonged gas sanction from Russia and it found that a prolonged supply disruption would have a substantial impact on the EU.

Although the idea of a gas sanction from Russia doesn’t sound daunting to the citizens of the UK it should be mentioned that Russia supplies 23% of the entire EU’s gas supplies and of that approximately 15% comes through Ukraine. On top of this nations such as Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia gain more than 20% of their overall energy via Russian gas.

So when Russia turned off the gas to Ukraine in January 2006, countries like France, Italy, Poland and Hungary reported that their gas pressure was down by as much as 30%. Then in 2009 when Russia stopped pumping gas to Ukraine again, Slovakia declared a state of emergency and Bulgaria was forced to shut down its main industrial plants due to the gas shortages. This year when Russia stopped the gas flow through Ukraine, EU leaders were worried that a similar situation could occur again. Fortunately a deal was signed in October which prompted the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, to state that “There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter“. The fact that this was ever an issue proves that the EU is far from achieving energy security.

When we combine this with our other energy import figures we get an even worse image, as the EU currently imports 53% of all its energy including: 88% of crude oil, 66% of natural gas, 42% of solid fuels and 93% of uranium. On top of this over half of Europe’s baseload capacity for energy creation comes from coal and nuclear sources.

Consequently in December 2008 the EU member states agreed to set the target of having 20% of Europe’s energy creation coming from renewable sources by 2020. Then on 28 May 2014 the EU announced its European Energy Security Strategy. With one of the stated aims being to switch to alternative fuels away from gas as a part of a short term solution to gas insecurity.

For the medium to long term the EU proposed 5 points: increased energy efficiency and the attainment of the 2030 goals; increased energy production within the EU and diversifying the supplier countries and supply routes for gas; the completion of the internal energy market along with the necessary infrastructural links between nations to allow for a quick response to energy disruptions; to speak with one voice when it comes to energy policy and lastly, to strengthen the emergency and solidarity mechanisms between member states.

In October 2014 the EU also made a climate change pact which set the target of greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 40% from the 1990 levels by 2030. Additional targets were placed for energy efficiency which was set to increase by 27% as was the renewable energy market share.

Additionally the EU placed a greater focus on its efforts to create an internal energy market by setting targets for electrical grid connections between member states to reach 15% by 2030 so that when the demand arises, or in emergency situations such as the denial of gas supplies from Russia, power or gas can be easily transferred within the EU.

Here rises the question of why is the focus on gas instead of oil? This is partially because of the volatility of importing gas and partially because Europe uses 31% of the gas it imports to generate electricity. That’s 31% less gas we could be importing if we generated our own energy which could be done via renewable means. On top of this the continued situations that arise between Ukraine and Russia have demonstrated the EU’s, particularly the eastern nations’, dependance on gas imports from Russia.

This is not to say that we could not receive gas from nations other than Russia, however unfortunately other nations are not as dependable. For instance Algeria supplied Italy with 40% less gas in 2013 than it did in 2012 whilst Libya’s gas exports were down 11.9%. On top of this receiving gas from suppliers outside of Europe is typically a more expensive alternative.

One of the main arguments that arises against renewable energy is that it is dependent on whatever it is deriving the electricity from. For instance, what happens when the wind stops blowing or if it is a cloudy day. Another objection that is often mentioned is that at the moment renewable energy sources require back up fossil fueled power plants to ensure that the demand is met. This is where the internal energy market comes into play as countries such as Sweden and Norway have plenty of Hydro-electric power which can be switched on and off like gas power plants to ensure that demand is adequately met.

Alongside this there are small changes and innovations within our societies that can take place as there are many ideas for using renewable energy other than for the large scale production of energy. Ideas such as Solar Leaf which uses algae to produce power and heat for buildings and the Solarbox which is a converted phone box with a solar panel on the top that offers free mobile phone charging services. These small ideas are the type of innovative technologies that the EU needs to encourage so we can move towards a more secure energy market that is not reliant on importing oil and gas.

Ultimately, although progress has been made towards creating energy security for the EU, overall progress as well as the targets that were set for 2030 are not far reaching enough. They are not drastic enough. They are comfortable targets but not the necessary ones. Some nations have embraced the idea of energy security. Nations such as Germany who have planned for electricity from renewable sources to account for 35% of their total usage by 2025, 55% by 2035 and at least 80% by 2050. On the other hand there are nations like the UK who has seen a rise in investments in fossil fuels from 8% of all energy investments in 2012 to 61% this year.

We need low carbon economies to fight global warming and to promote skilled high wage jobs for the future. This market is already worth trillions every year. If the EU commits to becoming a leading force in this industry we can ensure that not only are our own energy needs secured but we have the ability to sell our excess energy and our expertise in the profitable field for years to come.

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