The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that Russia could stop supplying gas to Europe in winter. While the scenario is still not very likely, the IEA urges Europe to work on contingency plans and be prepared.
In recent weeks, the EU countries received less gas from Russian than they expected. This is part of Russia amping its ante against the Western world, retaliating against the sanctions that were imposed against it for invading Ukraine. While it's hard to analyze the Russian jingoist rhetoric and figure out what the country actually wants to do, a complete cut-off from its gas is not something that can be ruled out.
“Europe should be ready in case Russian gas is completely cut off,” Faith Birol, IEA head, told the Financial Times in an interview. “The nearer we are coming to winter, the more we understand Russia’s intentions. I believe the cuts are geared towards avoiding Europe filling storage, and increasing Russia’s leverage in the winter months.”
The IEA was one of the first organizations to blame Russia publicly for manipulating gas supplies to Europe in the build-up to the Ukraine invasion. Birol said the emergency measures taken by European countries, such as restarting coal-power stations, were justified due to the scale of the crisis -- despite the CO2 emissions. This would be just a short-term intervention to help avoid widespread energy shortages in Europe as the continent tries to wean itself off Russian gas.
In the interview, the head of the energy agency said the increase in coal-fired generation was only temporary and it would help to cope with the lack of gas supplies for heating in winter. The additional emissions from burning the highly polluting coal would be offset by Europe’s plans to increase renewable energy generation capacity.
The EU has recently introduced an ambitious plan to have half of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2030 -- more than double the current amount. As part of the plan, the bloc already introduced several measures, from doubling the rate of deployment of heat pumps to making mandatory the use of rooftop solar panels.
However, the IEA head said the steps so far taken by European governments won’t be enough if Russia completely cuts off its natural gas exports, adding countries should do everything they can to preserve gas supplies to ensure storage for winter. “I believe there will be more and deeper demand measures as winter approaches,” he added.
Limited gas supplies
Birol said rationing of gas supplies in Europe remained a real possibility in case Russia cut its exports even further. Sweden and Denmark followed Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands this week in announcing emergency plans to preserve gas supplies, but these don’t include rationing yet. The EU gets about 40% of its gas from Russia.
The IEA head suggested countries delay shutting down nuclear facilities assigned for closure to help limit the amount of gas burned in electricity generation. All countries “should consider postponing closures [of nuclear power plants] as long as the safety conditions are there,” Birol said, not singling out any specific country in Europe -- but clearly hinting at Germany, the largest Russian gas consumer, which also wants to shut down its remaining nuclear plants.
Birol was speaking ahead of the publication of a new IEA report, which warned governments aren’t doing enough to encourage investment in renewable energy. Total energy investments are expected to grow this year by 8%, but almost half of the increase in capital spending is linked to higher costs, according to the report.
Last year the IEA said the world didn’t have to invest in new oil and gas fields for governments to meet their climate targets by 2050. However, this is far from being the case, with new investments in fossil fuels being announced in developed and developing countries.
The energy sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The ongoing crisis shows the increasing problems of over-reliance on fossil fuels; had Europe accelerated its renewable energy growth, it would now be in a much better position to deal with this.