Renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency in IEA plan to break EU reliance on Russian gas

Fatih Birol, Kadri Simson (top right) and Barbara Pompili during press conference.

The International Energy Agency unveiled a 10-point plan which it believes could wean the European Union off Russian gas imports by more than a third by this time next year.

The plan includes measures such as bringing in gas from other countries and boosting national reserves, as well as accelerating the rollout of renewables and increasing energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and among consumers.

It also incorporates maximizing power from nuclear plants, with a suggestion that countries that are currently planning to retire nuclear plants may want to “revisit those decisions”.

The move comes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent fears over Europe’s energy security because of its dependence on Russian gas.

Gas as ‘economic and political weapon’

“For decades the European gas supply has been dominated by Russia and now nobody is under any illusions – Russia is using this as an economic and political weapon,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol in a press conference.

Birol: Russia is using gas “as economic and political weapon”.

Last year, the EU imported 155 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia, accounting for around 45% of EU gas imports and close to 40% of its total gas consumption.

Birol said the IEA’s 10-point plan “provides practical steps to cut Europe’s reliance on Russian gas imports by over a third within a year while supporting the shift to clean energy in a secure and affordable way.

“Europe needs to rapidly reduce the dominant role of Russia in its energy markets and ramp up the alternatives as quickly as possible.”

The 10-point plan

Here’s a breakdown of the 10 points:

1. No new gas supply contracts to be signed with Russia.

2. Replace Russian supplies with gas from alternative sources, such as Qatar, Algeria, and Azerbaijan.

3. Introduce minimum gas storage obligations for European countries to boost system resilience for next winter.

4. Accelerate the deployment of new wind and solar projects, which Birol said could reduce gas use by 6 billion cubic meters within a year. He said Europe is “already a world leader” in renewables and added it could go further by speeding up the permitting process. “We don’t need to cut corners: we just need to cut red tape.”  

5. Maximise power generation from bioenergy and nuclear, which the IEA estimates could cut gas use by 13 billion cubic meters in a year. Birol said: “For those countries looking at retiring nuclear plants, there may be some merit to revisit those decisions.”

6. Enact short-term tax measures on windfall profits to shelter vulnerable electricity consumers from high prices, which the IEA hopes would reduce energy bills even when gas prices remain high.

7. Speed up the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps.  

8. Accelerate energy efficiency improvements in buildings and industry.

9. Encourage a temporary thermostat reduction of 1°C by consumers, which Birol said would alone reduce gas use by some 10 billion cubic meters in 12 months.

10. Step up efforts to diversify and decarbonize sources of power system flexibility to loosen the strong links between gas supply and Europe’s electricity security.

‘No miracle remedy’

Joining Birol for the press conference was Barbara Pompili, France’s Ecological Transition Minister, and Kadri Simson, the European Commissioner for Energy.

Pompili said that “there is no miracle remedy” to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, yet she stressed that the 10-point plan would “strengthen the robustness of the energy system”.

Pompili: “We must enhance the energy transition.”

“More than ever, getting rid of Russian fossil fuels and of fossil fuels in general, is essential. What is at stake is both the need to accelerate our fight against climate change and, as we can see now, the short-term energy security and independence of the European continent.”

“We must enhance the energy transition that we have started. Each additional wind turbine or solar panel is a step forward in the fight for the climate and for our energy independence.”

She added that she hoped that within 15 days the Ukraine grid would be fully connected to the European network.

Simson opened her remarks by stating that “Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a watershed moment”. She said that next week the EC “will propose a pathway for Europe to become independent from Russian gas as soon as possible” and added that the IEA’s plan offered “concrete steps we can take towards that goal”.

Climate change

She also stressed that all 10 proposed measures were in line with the EU’s Green Deal. “The Green Deal agenda is one for our energy security as well as climate change.”

Many of the actions in the plan such as those around energy efficiency and renewables are also key elements of the IEA’s Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050.

However, the IEA has also highlighted other measures which are in line with neither its own Net Zero report nor the Green Deal, but “are available to the EU if it wishes, or needs to, reduce reliance on Russian gas even more quickly – but with significant trade-offs”.

Kadri Simson wears the colours of Ukraine for press conference.

Chief among these is increased use of coal power stations or using oil in existing gas-fired power plants.

The IEA says that these options “may also be costly from an economic point of view”, however it concedes that “they could displace large volumes of gas relatively quickly”.

“If the fuel-switching option were to be fully exercised in addition to the complete implementation of the 10-Point Plan described above, it would result in a total annual reduction in EU imports of gas from Russia of more than 80 billion cubic meters, or over half, while still resulting in a modest decline in overall emissions.”

This morning, European Commissioner for Climate Action, Frans Timmermans, told the BBC that the coal option was certainly on the table. Indeed, he suggested that Poland could still make its switch to renewables within its existing timeframe by cutting out gas and switching to coal until renewables were online.

Originally published by Kelvin Ross at Power Engineering International

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