Energy Efficiency And Renewables Come To Rescue To Avoid EU Gas Shortage

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by KnowESG
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As Europe faces a gas shortage crisis and rising energy prices in the wake of cold winter weather, many are turning to alternative energy sources to help meet surging demand. With increased investment in efficiency and renewable technologies, countries like Germany and France have been able to reduce their reliance on Russian natural gas imports and ensure that they have an adequate supply during times of heightened demand.

While gas shortages may seem like a major energy crisis, many experts believe that these challenges are ultimately surmountable. By focussing on efficiency and renewables, the EU is better able to ensure its long-term energy security and meet the demands of its growing population. With continued investment and support, Europe will be able to adapt and thrive in the face of changing energy needs.

Here are five action areas the EU can focus on to make consumption changes:

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Renewable energy

Increase investment in energy efficiency and renewable technologies like wind and solar power, which can help reduce gas consumption significantly.

According to a report by global energy think tank, Ember, the European Union generated a record of 12% of its electricity by using solar power from the month of May to August, 2022 saving up to USD 29.1 billion in fossil gas imports.

With solar share records broken in 18 EU member states, the bloc as a whole generated 99.4TWh of solar power this year, up from 77.7TWh (9% of total electricity generation) in the same period last year. Talking about the natural gas crisis following the ban on Russian gas supplies in Europe and the importance of solar energy, Senior Analyst at Ember, Paul Czyżak said, “Investments in solar capacity have paid off. Every terawatt hour of solar electricity helped reduce our gas consumption, saving billions for European citizens.” 

It was also found that in terms of countries with the largest share of solar generation, the Netherlands was at the top position for the second time in a row with 23% solar share in the power mix above its 18% value in 2021, ahead of Germany with 19% and Spain with 17%. Simply put, dependence on fossil fuels has decreased while renewable energy reliance has increased.

While the records are positive about the consumption of solar and wind energy, a report by International Energy Agency (IEA) states that the EU faces a potential shortage of approximately 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas in 2023, and the risk of shortage can be avoided by improving efficiency, deploying renewables, installing heat pumps, promoting energy savings and, in the short-term, diversifying sources of oil and gas production.  

Energy storage

As more intermittent renewable sources come online, it will be important to invest in energy storage technologies that can store excess electricity for use during periods of high demand.

This can help ensure that gas is only used when necessary, reducing its overall impact on the environment. 

Another advantage is of course cost: storing energy effectively can also reduce energy bills. For the purpose of saving energy, the European Union has brought forward long-term energy conservation plans such as increasing 9% to 13% of the Binding Energy Efficiency Target that comes under the ‘Fit for 55’ package of European Green Deal legislation.

Another method of storing energy is by the new method of burden sharing mechanism. Some EU countries have a larger storage capability than their national consumption, while others have minimum storage facilities and large consumption. In order to store energy, EU countries with more storage facilities will pay for the security of supply costs of the minimum filling target, as a result helping the EU as a whole. 

The European Commission has set out a plan to regulate the intermediate gas storage filling targets that all EU countries should meet by 2023 to reach the 90% gas storage targets by 1 November 2023. So, tentative steps are being taken towards avoiding gas shortage in the future. 

Energy efficiency

Adopt policies that encourage energy conservation, such as home insulation programmes or building codes that promote greener construction.

The EU Save Energy Communication also helps in encouraging member states to start out campaigns on energy savings such as using fiscal measures like reducing VAT rates on energy efficient heating systems, building insulation appliances, and products.    

Promoting a shift towards electric vehicles and other low-carbon transportation methods can help lower natural gas prices and demand for transportation. As a step towards net carbon emissions, The EU has developed an agreement that will ensure that all new cars and vans registered in Europe will be zero-emission by 2035. It also states that average CO2 emissions of new cars will need to be reduced by 55% and the CO2 reductions for new vans needs to be reduced by 50%, all by 2030. This is a positive step towards the adoption of renewable energy over fossil fuels, reducing dependence on Russian gas supplies while ensuring lower energy prices.

Talking about the EU's commitment towards net-zero emissions, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said, “ The agreement sends a strong signal to industry and consumers: Europe is embracing the shift to zero-emission mobility. European carmakers are already proving they are ready to step up to the plate, with increasing and increasingly affordable electric cars coming to the market. The speed at which this change has happened over the past few years is remarkable. It is no wonder that this file is the first one in the entire Fit for 55 package where Member States and the European Parliament have come to a final deal.” 

The EU can also focus on improving the energy performance of buildings and modes of transportation, which are major gas consumers. Improving insulation, installing smart appliances, and switching to electric vehicles can all help to reduce gas usage across different sectors. The EU has proposed to go ahead with net-zero emission buildings instead of the current net-zero buildings by 2030 in order to align with the longer-term climate neutrality goals and energy efficiency principle.

The proposal also states that the  zero-emission building should apply from 1 January, 2030 to all new buildings and from 1 January, 2027 to all buildings occupied or owned by public authorities. The purpose behind this proposal is to generate on-site energy from renewable sources with zero to low energy usage that further helps reduce the cost of energy bills while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Scale up supply

Make strategic partnerships with natural gas-producing countries, particularly in regions like the Middle East, to ensure access to gas supplies during periods of heightened demand.

The EU External Energy Strategy places the importance of building long-term partnerships with energy suppliers and investing in green technologies. The strategy gives priority to the EU commitment to green transition by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, along with saving energy, boosting development of renewables, and stepping up energy diplomacy. 

The REPowerEU has a plan to produce 10 million tonnes and import 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen into the EU by 2030. For this purpose, it will be starting hydrogen imports from three major corridors, namely: the Southern Mediterranean, the North Sea and, if possible, from Ukraine. It is important to foster international cooperation to accelerate the demand for cleaner energy sources, such as hydrogen, that helps in decarbonising heavily fossil-fuel dependent energy sectors such as transportation and in industrial applications.

Finally, priority research has gone into new natural gas extraction techniques and technologies, such as advanced fracking or carbon capture and storage systems, which could to some extent optimise current sources of natural gas and help minimise the usage of fossil fuels, while reducing costs. 

Electrify everything

In order to reduce gas consumption for heating, an overarching, crucial shift is the electrification of everything, such as in transport systems and with the widespread adoption of heat pumps.

By shifting away from gas-fired heating systems, we can help ease the gas shortage crisis and ensure that Europe has a reliable and sustainable energy supply moving forward. The REPowerEU plan expects a “doubling of the rate of deployment of heat pumps and measures to integrate geothermal and solar energy thermal in modernised district and communal heating systems.” As a result, the expectations are that the doubling will help in bringing 10 million units over a period of the next five years.

Beating the EU Energy Crisis

By educating consumers on the benefits of energy conservation and promoting natural gas conservation, we can help shift public attitudes and encourage more responsible gas usage in Europe. With a concerted effort from policymakers, industry leaders, and individual citizens alike, we can be confident that the EU will emerge stronger from this gas shortage crisis. 

To support these efforts, the EU should prioritise public awareness campaigns that educate citizens about gas usage and encourage them to take action themselves. By raising awareness about gas consumption and providing the relevant tools, consumers may develop a more transparent relationship with their own energy use, and thus be better equipped to implement changes that reduce both use and cost. 

The EU has been, due to geography, bearing the brunt of exorbitant energy costs and shortages due to strict action to wean itself off Russian natural gas supplies. Painful as the process is and will continue to be, the energy crisis presents a singular opportunity to lead in the further development and rollout of renewables across the Union, providing an example of how gas imports can be modified and a future regional energy autonomy may be shaped.

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