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Renewable energy can liberate Europe from its dependency on Russia

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Solar panels in Offingen, Germany. Photo: Andreas Gücklhorn

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According to the International Energy Agency, nearly 40% of gas consumed in the EU comes from Russia. In Germany alone, that dependence was around 55% before the start of Russia’s war. In 2021, Germany bought around 47 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia; in 1993, that number was 25 billion, and in 1973 - only 1 billion. 

“For too long, gas has been portrayed as an enabler or even as a bridge technology toward a renewable future because gas is said to be less CO2-intensive than coal,” says Dr. Wolfgang Gründinger, Chief Evangelist at Enpal, a Berlin-based solar startup, “As for Germany, it’s been too confident in economic cooperation with Russia despite knowing that Russia hasn’t been too friendly toward the EU and Germany in particular.”

For instance, Germany still went on with the Nord Stream 2, a $11 billion pipeline to transport Russian gas directly which caused a major rift between the EU member states. In addition, despite a commitment toward carbon neutrality and a reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030, gas and oil remained major energy sources in Germany and the rest of Europe. 

Therefore, sanctioning Russia’s fossil fuels became a challenge when the Russo-Ukrainian war started. Things changed in April, when it was Russia cutting gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, and later - to Baltic states, Italy, and Germany, launching what German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck called “an economic attack.”

To address this, the EU started looking for immediate alternatives: such as a deal with Egypt and Israel, which, nevertheless, will require major infrastructure investments, and getting more gas from Norway and the US through LNG terminals. 

“In the short term, we need gas because we cannot transition from it right away” says Gründinger, “So if Russia cuts off gas to Europe completely, we will need to get it elsewhere, especially to prepare for the winter as our storage is half empty.”

Without cheap energy, Germany could fall into a recession that may reduce national GDP by up to 5%, and which may affect the rest of Europe severely. To avoid that, Germany restarted its coal mines, closed earlier due to their ecological impact. Their reopening will put strains on the German CO2 budget, which is the amount of emissions the country can have before the world temperature increases 2 degrees. Therefore, other greenhouse gas emissions will have to be reduced to keep up with the pollution from the coal. 

“We need to look for renewable energies instead,” Gründinger continues, “Those are rightfully called freedom energies because they can free us from our dependence on fossil fuels, and they are green and domestically produced.”

Renewable energy - such as wind and solar power - does not need to be imported, is secure climate-wise, and is getting more popular. Twenty years ago, its share in the German electricity sector was around 5%, and now, it is more than 41%. 

The problem, however, is the infrastructure, especially in the heating and transport sectors. These two are still highly dependent on fossil fuels as most cars need oil, and most heating comes from gas, which, again, has to be bought abroad. 

“If everything goes well, we can produce 100% of green electricity in 8-10 years, and we can also increase the share of cars powered by green energy from 1 million to, let’s say, 15 million,” Gründinger explains, “But that will require a set of specific measures and a major infrastructure development like building storage facilities to keep the generated energy.”

The expert points out that the initial investment into renewables is dwarfed by the cost of fossil fuels such as the $63 billion the EU paid Russia in 100 days of war. 

“Nobody asks if we can afford fossil fuels any longer, but the cost is always an issue when we are talking about renewables,” Gründinger concludes, “This is a wrong narrative because we are talking about investing into the future and our security.”

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