Dependency challenges to new European energy ambitions

The invasion of Ukraine has exposed the vulnerability of European energy systems. As the EU and the UK rapidly revise their energy strategies, it is important to appreciate the very different starting points of European countries regarding their energy mix and thus their ability to enhance energy security and independence – in particular weaning themselves off a dependence on Russia – while maintaining affordability for consumers and pursuing net-zero carbon ambitions.

This interactive presents information on Europe’s dependence on energy imports, Russian gas imports, and the role of natural gas in electricity and heat generation. It also highlights the disparity between countries in gas production capacity and demand.

Since the crisis began Russia has substantially reduced its exports to a dozen EU countries and has temporarily halted supply through the Nord Stream pipeline. European gas prices are nearly six times higher than a year ago, amplifying concerns about the possibility of a recession and high inflation. Public buildings in Germany will have thermostats limited to 19 degrees, and regulators in the country are sounding the alarm of winter rationing unless gas usage is reduced by 20%, which may lead to reduce supply to entire economic segments. The energy crisis may be further aggravated by an exceptionally dry summer. Drought conditions have caused reductions in hydroelectric and nuclear power generation in several European countries, and forced Norway to announce possible cuts to hydroelectricity exports if lack of rainfall persists.

Europe’s policymakers are under mounting pressure to find alternative suppliers. With its REPowerEU plan, the European Commission has planned for a reduction of Russian gas imports by two thirds by the end of 2022. In a landmark agreement with the United States, the European Union has committed to increase its purchases of liquified natural gas (LNG) to replace up to a third of its imports from Russia. Longer-term ambitions will focus on improving energy efficiency, investing in renewables, and replacing gas in heating and electricity generation. The EU has also agreed to reduce natural gas use by 15% through March 2023, and to ration gas if necessary.

Individual countries have also been pursuing agreements with gas exporters. Germany has entered into a contract with Qatar for LNG supply starting in 2024. The Netherlands is planning to end dependence on Russian oil and gas by end of this year, with a focus on increased LNG imports from other countries, higher energy efficiency, and investments in renewables. Meanwhile, the UK has announced plans to phase out Russian imports of oil and coal by end of 2022, as well as to expand its offshore wind and nuclear capacity— with nuclear alone expected to generate 25% of the country’s electricity by 2050.

In the short term, end consumers can also play a key role in reducing dependence by turning down thermostats as domestic heating in many countries relies heavily on gas.