How the war between Russia and Ukraine is reshaping the global energy crisis

In 2021, the European Union imported $108 billion worth of energy from Russia, including 40 percent of its gas and 25 percent of its crude oil. By far the biggest consumer of Russian energy is Germany, which has frustrated its NATO allies by reaffirming its dependence on Russian energy by building pipelines. Germany, in turn, needs access to cheap energy as it remains the heart of European manufacturing.

Since the latest Russian invasion began, the US has banned imports of Russian oil, gas and coal, Britain plans to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year, and the EU is cutting gas imports by two-thirds. Poland has already significantly reduced its use of Russian oil and plans to end coal imports by the end of next year, its prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said this week.

Germany is also working fast to cut ties. “Every terminated supply contract harms Putin,” the country’s Minister of Economy and Climate Action, Robert Habeck, said on March 25. He told reporters that he would be almost free of Russian coal and oil by the end of the year, followed by gas by 2024.

The speed at which Europe wants to isolate itself from Russian fossil fuels cannot be overstated. Last week, Vladimir Putin threatened to isolate Europe unless it paid for its energy in rubles, thereby propping up its war effort and its currency.

And Europe’s leaders are aware that unless they manage to diversify energy supply and reduce demand before the northern winter, they will suffer not only economic shocks, but also the possibility that some of their most vulnerable citizens will die in homeless homes. heating.

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His immediate plan includes increasing imports from other sources, with Poland, for example, building or expanding terminals for imports from the Middle East.

But the calls for a new energy revolution, a transition to the speed of light, are growing louder.

On March 3, the International Energy Agency (IEA), an organization that until recently had very conservative views on the potential of renewable energy, issued a 10 point plan about how the use of Russian gas could be reduced by a third in a short time.

“No one is delusional anymore. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon shows that Europe needs to act quickly to be prepared to face considerable uncertainty about Russian gas supplies ahead. [northern] winter,” the IEA said. CEO Fatih Birol.

The IEA’s recommendations range from measures as simple as asking homeowners to heat their homes to 21 degrees instead of the standard 22 during the winter, to extending the life of some of the continent’s nuclear reactors.

But the plan also recommends that the EU cut red tape for wind turbines and subsidize home retrofits with better insulation, smart heating controls and rooftop solar. It proposes to replace gas heaters with more efficient heat pumps, better known in Australia as split system air conditioners.

The cost of these units has collapsed in recent years due to better technology and the large scale of Chinese manufacturing, some of the same pressures that have driven down the cost of solar cells.

Not surprisingly, the 10-point plan did not have universal support. In Britain, some conservative commentators and politicians, already agitated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s embrace of rapid decarbonisation, began to revolt.

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Many spoke out under the banner of Net Zero Watch, a group founded by the Global Warming Policy Foundation lobby group, which opposes what it sees as reckless action to tackle climate change.

But Johnson stood his ground, writing in London daily telegraph that Britain should double down on renewables, which were “invulnerable to Putin’s manipulations.”

“He can have his hand on the oil and gas taps. But there is nothing he can do to stop the North Sea wind,” Johnson wrote.

Today’s UK Conservatives have never been more united behind renewables, says Dave Jones, global electricity analyst at Ember, a UK-based global energy and climate think tank, noting that half of all Conservative MPs have now joined the party’s green group, Conservative Environment. Network.

“The biggest winners from this energy crisis will be wind and solar. In many parts of the world, coal prices have tripled and gas prices have increased 10-fold, and both, especially gas, now have security implications,” says Jones.

“Wind and solar power were the cheapest forms of electricity in most countries before this crisis, and they definitely are now. And what’s more, they’re supplying the homegrown energy that governments crave right now. The response in Europe in the last month… has been unequivocal: the energy transition must be accelerated”.

A stack of flares burns at an oil refinery in Thessaloniki, Greece.

A stack of flares burns at an oil refinery in Thessaloniki, Greece.Credit:Bloomberg

In the US, the White House is taking a similar line: urging the private sector to deliver more oil and gas in the immediate term while seeking to decarbonize its power systems as quickly as possible through the deployment of renewables, electrification of households and increased efficiency.

Addressing a leading conference of energy, technology and finance leaders last month, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm declared that the world was now on a war footing.

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“We have to respond by increasing supply in the short term…and that means releases of strategic reserves around the world and that means you produce more right now where and if you can.”

But he said it also meant embracing the energy transition, dismissing arguments that it couldn’t be done as “same old DC BS”: “[The] The clean energy transition is not just coming, it is here. Your investors demand action, your customers demand climate action, 70 percent of American voters support the clean energy transition.”

Bourne made his own transition when he retired from BP in 1999, only to take a job leading WWF Australia. He is now an adviser to the Climate Council, the body that was privately formed to inform the public about climate change when the Abbott administration fired what had been the Climate Commission upon taking office in 2013.

Bourne believes that the tragedy that has befallen Ukraine and Europe has struck at a crucial moment in history.

“Ten years ago [technology for transition] I just wasn’t ready. Even three years ago, people could have bet. Now I am absolutely certain that this is the moment.”

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