While the member states of the European Union Struggling to get around the moratorium on Russian oil importsThere is also a growing debate about the Russian energy on which Europe depends most – gas. EU countries have ambitions for independence from Russian gas, but they quarrel over how that should happen.
At the same time, Putin rattled his swords – Russia recently cut off gas supplies to Poland when it refused to pay the bill in rubles, threatening to repeat this to more countries as the bills come due.
This was the backdrop to a symposium sponsored by NUPI (Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute) on Tuesday, in which the abrupt halt to access to Russian gas was described as a near-disastrous situation — for Russia, but also for Europe.
– We ended up in a very dangerous situation driven by a belief in globalization rather than self-production – low price was more important than self-sufficiency. But you can’t replace gas from Russia with wind turbines in the North Sea when it’s not windy, says Eric Wears, chief economist at Equinor.
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It paints a bleak picture of both the energy crisis in general and the reality of a rapid phase-out of Russian gas.
Then everything stops in an instant
The goal of the European Union is to replace Russian gas by 2030. It will be very difficult, Wyrence believes:
– It is possible, but not without significant financial and social costs.
Other gas sources such as Norway, the Netherlands, and Algeria can contribute, as well as LNG (ship-borne liquefied gas), but the market is tight, and increased imports into Europe may conflict with demand elsewhere in the world.
This pushes prices further up, and even higher energy prices leads to an industrial crisis, a transportation crisis, and what Warrens describes as cases of “yellow vests.”
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A possible oil boycott will seriously harm the Russian economy. According to experts, it is easier to replace oil than gas, because its transportation is not limited by fixed infrastructure – a lot of gas is imported through pipelines, while oil is transported mainly by ships. But the oil boycott would also create major drama in Europe, says Wuernes:
We underestimate the importance of oil in many countries. The transportation sector around the world would stop at any given time without oil. There is a reason why Germany is already having internal discussions about legalization. We are exposed to yellow jackets, social unrest, unemployment and ‘city and country’ struggles.
And this is before we take into account the consequences, for example, for African countries, notes the chief economist.
Slow motion train accident
Punishing Russia comes at a time when global climate measures are needed if the world is to reach the 1.5-degree target, which means carbon dioxide emissions must be halved by 2030.
Achieving both will be difficult, to put it mildly, according to Equinor’s chief economist:
– It certainly won’t happen, he says.
Wernæss notes that it is historically unusual for gas to be more expensive than oil, and points to the strong dilemma that the crisis comes in the middle of a long-planned green turn.
Europe’s plans to replace fossil energy with renewable energy are not going fast enough, and the result is ironic:
– It’s a slow motion train accident. We have invested a third of what we need in the green transition. Then the demand for what we are going to replace will increase.
A massive offshore wind development is on the way, but this is also affected by the Ukraine war. The dispute limits the supply of raw materials such as steel, and as if that weren’t enough, microchips from Ukraine are being used in offshore wind infrastructure, Warners said.
Here are some of the key points from the Equinor Summit on matching issues:
- Violent demand for alternative gas sources
- Strong push for renewable energy development – disputes over sea and land areas for such development, where individual countries make these decisions
- Contract commitments – many gas agreements extend beyond 2030
- Infrastructure development takes a very long time
- An already narrow market will raise prices even more
- Unknown framework conditions later in the future
- An imbalance between the energy to be replaced and what to replace it
Wernes, who also points to the temporal aspect as a major obstacle, says:
It takes only five to eight years to develop a power line in Germany.
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Requires huge offshore wind developments
Offshore wind is often mentioned as a form of energy to replace fossil energy. On Wednesday, it became known that Norway is also ramping up its offshore wind plans.
But developing similar offshore wind energy as what Russian gas represents, to put it mildly, is a challenge.
As an example of the last point, Warrens points to the largest offshore wind farm in the world, Dogger Bank, which Equinor is currently building outside of England. When measured with clean energy, this would produce just over one percent of Russia’s gas energy.
If all goes well, according to Wuerness, the plant will produce about 1.4 billion cm (Billion cubic meters – a standard unit of measurement for natural gas, editor’s note) which equates to 10.5 terawatt-hours, according to energy calculator The total electricity consumption in Norway is about 140 TWh.
By comparison, the Russian gas supply just above Europe is 110 billion cubic meters – the equivalent of 1151 terawatt-hours.
Germany alone imports about 43 billion cubic meters of Russian gas – nearly 40 times more than what the high-end Equinor project will provide. The total energy consumption in the European Union in recent years has been about 3,500 TWh.
Read also: Putin stopped gas – soon Norwegian gas will become a lifeline for Poland
Losing a lot of energy
But the calculation is complicated – a lot of gas is lost in energy production:
– The figure is correct for the primary energy in the gas. But when gas is used for electricity, about two-thirds of the energy for heating and exhaust disappears. On the contrary, there is almost no energy loss from wind energy that goes directly to electricity. So in fact, the green transition is tremendous energy efficiency. You need a third of the same energy to do the same job, says Jon Evang, subject matter manager for energy at Miljøstiftelsen Zero.
However, the picture is more complicated by the fact that a significant part of the gas goes directly to industry or heating – then the efficiency will be much greater than a third, up to 60 percent, Evang estimates.
It is unclear how much gas from Russia goes to electricity. If half of the gas is used in this way, this means that the equivalent of 750 TWh must be replaced (since two-thirds of the gas’s energy is burned for electricity).
If all of that energy were replaced by renewable energy, that would be the equivalent of about 70 offshore wind farms the same size as Equinors Dogger Bank.
Norway’s new year ambition to 2040 (30 GWh per year) will cover about a third of this need, but not until around 2040.
Evang i Zero agrees that it will be very difficult to replace all Russian gas by 2030, but remains optimistic about offshore wind:
– It will be very difficult until 2030, but until 2035-2040 you can gradually with very large amounts of offshore wind. Evang says the best card in Norway is to invest heavily in offshore wind, as it will be necessary in all scenarios.
Yes, sanctions work
The seminar was also attended by NUPI’s Russia expert, Jacob Gozimirsky. He asserts that the Russians do not have the infrastructure to send gas anywhere other than pipelines to Europe:
Europe’s dependence on gas provides Russia with money and market access. It gives them well-being and ensures the stability of the system. But the Russians make more money from oil. So if energy sales are stifled, the money for the war will be reduced. Then the question becomes – is it more important to win the war or to secure Russia’s future?
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Godzimirsky believes there is no sign that sanctions have changed Putin’s behavior yet. But the Russian expert notes that sanctions in the energy sector may be a bit surprising, in the same way that Putin did not expect such strong unity and so much military support for Ukraine from the West.
Godzimirsky believes that an import ban that severely affects the energy sector can be effective:
– It can affect the strategy. That might be about to happen.
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