IEA’s plan to decrease EU reliance on Russia’s natural gas

The European Union may be able to decrease its dependency on Russian gas by 30% within a year with various sets of measures. Saving energy and reducing household heating would have a moderate impact.

Gas pipeline

The International Energy Agency released a plan on March 3 to decrease the European Union’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas by cutting between one third and half of imports within a year.

Saving energy by reducing household heating could reduce by 10 billion cubic meters consumption of gas but it’s only 6% of annual Russian imports.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 most world powers imposed sanctions against Moscow. But the European Union has been feeling vulnerable with its reliance on natural gas imports, even though Germany eventually decided to stop the process of opening the newly-built Nord Stream 2 pipeline at the end of February.

By delivering 155 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural and liquefied natural gas in 2021, Russia accounted for almost 40% of the E.U.’s annual gas imports according to the I.E.A. And natural gas is a significant portion of E.U’s total energy mix (22% in 2019).

But the agency proposed a series of immediate actions that could reduce Russian gas imports by one third within a year, while still being able to meet the E.U.’s carbon footprint reduction goals.

The I.E.A. also foresees that more drastic actions could even reduce the need for Russian gas by half but it would slow down E.U. emission reductions in the short term.

The first opportunity for the E.U. is that long-term contracts with Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company, covering imports of more than 15bcm per year are due to expire at the end of 2022. Approximately 12% of the company’s gas supplies to the E.U. in 2021 may not be renewed, providing the possibility for the E.U. to take advantage of the situation and diversify its suppliers.

To compensate for losses with Russia, the E.U. could increase its imports from Norway and Azerbaijan as well as increase its own production of gas.

Tackling pipeline leaks from oil and gas operations could also bring 2.5bcm a year to help fuel the E.U.’s energy demand. Better management of gas storage to avoid price hikes would help as well.

The I.E.A. also proposes to simplify processes for granting building permits for wind and solar projects to accelerate even further its power capacity in renewable energy. However, there is “limited potential to scale up” biogas and biomethane supply in the short term because of the lead times for new projects according to the agency.

To reduce the dependency on Russian gas, the E.U. would in turn rely on nuclear energy. Four nuclear power plants are scheduled to shut down by the end of 2022 and another one in 2023. The agency notes delaying their closure would help reduce gas use for electricity.

As buildings account for 40% of the energy consumed on the continent, households would also need to replace gas boilers with heat pumps. The European Commission already proposed a ban on fossil fuel boilers but with a deadline in 2040. On the corporate side, increasing the insulation of non-residential buildings would save more than 1bcm within a year.

On top of this, individuals should reduce thermostats to save energy. The average temperature for buildings heating across the E.U. is currently above 22 Celsius degrees (72F). But turning down by 1°C (34F) would bring down gas demand by some 10 bcm a year the agency recalled. That’s only 6% of the annual import of Russian gas.

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