lthough first apparent in the late 2000s, as gas prices continue to rise across the European continent, Europeans are finally recognizing their dependence on Russian gas. To counter rising prices and the dependence on Russia for its energy sources, the European Union should pursue renewable energy options. This is critical not only to promoting green energy solutions in Europe, but to ensuring the geopolitical position of the EU vis-à-vis Russian aggression—particularly in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How significant is Europe’s reliance on Russia for gas, and what are the benefits of investing in and using renewable energy alternatives?
In the late 2000s, Russian gas flowed into the heart of Europe through pipelines in Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. These countries, however, entered a series of gas disputes. When the Belarusians and Ukrainians looked to alter their deals, the Russians often refused to cooperate with these countries—leading to a reduced flow of Russian gas and impacting the lives of millions of Europeans, especially in the winter months. Given the history of these gas disputes, Europe opted to construct new pipelines from Russia into Europe that would bypass Belarus and Ukraine—notably the Nord Stream 1, TurkStream, and Nord Stream 2 projects. As a result, gas consumption increased across the European continent, but as Western and Central Europe began to reduce their dependence on Eastern Europe, and as the Europeans received an abundance of Russian gas, the European continent became more reliant than ever on the Russian Federation.
Today, this reliance has become a liability. In 2021, the European Union imported 45% of its natural gas from Russia. Then, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the Russians toyed with European gas supplies to try and force the Europeans to abandon their support for Ukraine. Numerous European countries are now implementing sanctions on Russian companies, organizations, and officials that support the war. In response, Russia has reduced its gas output to the European continent. Due to this reduction in Russian gas, the Europeans have acknowledged that they will not be ready for the upcoming winter. According to Bloomberg, several countries are stockpiling gas as they prepare for a brutal winter. Meanwhile, other states are preparing for potential gas shortages that could lead to millions of households without power during the cold winter months and families not able to afford skyrocketing gas prices.
There is, however, still time to ease these effects. This could be the perfect time for Europe to start transitioning to renewable and clean energy—leading to a reduction in overreliance on Russian gas and new energy alternatives for millions of Europeans that would be better for the environment.
In the short term, Europe could diversify its energy consumption by purchasing natural gas from other countries. This would lead to an expanded energy market and the Europeans would not be held hostage to reduce gas flows and dramatic energy prices—as shown by Russia’s recent antics. It would also prevent Russia from establishing a monopoly over the European continent. The Europeans could then begin their transition to renewable and clean energy. Investing in clean energy technologies would make Europe a global leader in this area. It would also lead to numerous opportunities across the continent. This would create jobs as workers would build and maintain these energy sources. It would also stimulate various European economies—leading to economic growth when many countries are still recovering from the socio-economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
There are additional reasons why Europeans should switch to these alternatives. According to reports, electricity is becoming cheaper in countries that have renewable energy sources rather than those that rely on gas. This could reduce energy bills and allow Europe to create energy more efficiently and effectively. Pursuing clean energy alternatives also aligns with Europe’s mission to create a greener and more stable planet. The European Union recently announced its commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. While this may be an ambitious goal, the dramatic increase in gas prices may be the incentive required to take this goal seriously. Aggressively pursuing a transition to renewable energy will allow Europe to reach this goal.
This transition is already under way. According to a list of findings published by Forbes, renewable energy generated 40% of electricity across Europe in the first half of 2020. In comparison, fossil fuels only generated 34%. Completing this transition, however, will not be easy. European countries such as Germany and Italy rely heavily on Russian gas. They will require time to construct the necessary infrastructure for clean energy alternatives. Other countries will be able to replace gas more easily. For example, Spain and Portugal buy limited quantities of Russian gas. The wide ranging energy situation across Europe has made it difficult for the EU to determine how it will proceed with its energy policy. Nonetheless, the Europeans should collaborate on how to make this transition.
Overall, Europe is in for a rude awakening as it prepares for a cold winter and underserviced amount of gas. Millions of families are struggling to pay for the dramatic increase in Russian gas prices and many more will suffer during the dead of winter. If the Europeans collaborated to construct reliable energy alternatives, they could alleviate the socio-economic damages that are expected this winter. This, in turn, will lead to greater financial stability and greater energy security as European countries regain control over their clean energy sources rather than relying on fossil fuels provided by foreign powers.