In May, Breaking Energy covered the G7 energy ministers’ special meeting in Rome. Back on the agenda thanks to the Ukraine crisis was European energy security, which is a topic of continuous deliberation, failed attempts at improving the European status quo such as the Nabucco pipeline project and, above all, complacency. Member states discussed how to replace Russian natural gas and came up with a draft 13-point plan that outlined “the path to energy security” built on core principles – among them the “diversification of energy fuels, sources and routes, and encouragement of indigenous sources of energy supply”.
We were skeptical as for the prospects of unified implementation because even though the draft plan envisioned greater connectivity within the European natural gas pipeline network and the “use of low carbon technologies (renewable energies, nuclear in countries that opt to use it, and carbon capture and storage),” it also recognized that “it is for individual countries to choose which sources they wish to develop.” The problem is that individual member states’ energy policies – due to domestic political calculations – do not play to their given or built up strengths. However, any coordinated and unified energy diversification strategy should take advantage of each member state’s indigenous energy sources and then pool them in a smart way.
Gal Luft and Anne Korin, co-directors of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), seem to share this sentiment. They write in an article for The American Interest:
“European reliance on Russian natural gas is in large part a self-inflicted wound. One can’t after all hail environmental issues über alles, effectively ruling out all other sources of base load, 24/7 electricity generation except natural gas, and then be taken seriously when complaining that Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of the leverage handed to him on a green platter.”
Luft and Korin go on and highlight a plethora of indispensable policy trade-offs to consider:
“Cutting coal use may reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but if coal is replaced by Russian natural gas, then reliability is compromised. If it is replaced by intermittent sources of power like solar and wind, the likelihood of power supply interruptions rises. Improving the reliability of renewable electricity by coupling it with expensive energy storage and backup power capacity—invariably provided by natural gas—means affordability takes a hit.”
Consequently, Luft and Korin postulate that “Europe should use the crisis in Ukraine as an opportunity to reassess the pace and pathway of its departure from coal [and nuclear power].” Their advice for European energy policy is straightforward and could also apply to current US energy policy bypassing Congress:
“[E]nergy security should not only be about the diversification of gas supply away from Russia but also the diversification of energy commodities overall. (…) [I]t would be to Europe’s detriment to ditch the workhorses of its energy system and throw its energy security under the bus in the service of environmental priorities and utopian thinking.”