Russia’s energy weapons are ineffective against Europe

Energy was once considered by Russia as a powerful weapon to force Europe to reduce its support for Ukraine, but this tool did not work as expected.

The worst-case scenario for an energy crisis in Europe was repeatedly presented last summer, when Russia cut off most of its gas supplies to the continent in response to Western sanctions. Many European countries have repeatedly criticized Russia for turning energy into a weapon to pressure them to reduce their support for Ukraine.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck warned of factory closures, broken supply chains and mass unemployment. French President Emmanuel Macron urged people to reduce heating temperatures, while Spain called on European countries that are not dependent on Russian gas to help neighboring countries suffering from energy shortages.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Medvedev, vice-president of Russia’s Security Council, has warned since June last year that Europeans will be “freezing in their homes” in the middle of winter as a result of supporting Ukraine.

But as the European Union (EU) enters the final month of winter, the signs are increasingly clear that it has weathered the energy crisis.

Within eight months of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, the 27 EU countries had replaced about 80% of the natural gas they used to import from Russia, by rapidly building new infrastructure for natural gas. liquefied natural gas (LNG), find new ways to help each other in times of shortage, and successfully pursue an energy-saving policy.

EU gas imports from Russia and from other countries for the period 2019-2022.  Graphics: Guardian

Proportion of EU gas imported from Russia and other countries in the period 2019-2022. Graphics: Guardian

The Netherlands, the EU’s largest natural gas producer, imported about 15-20% of its gas from Russia when it reduced its Groningen field, but has doubled its capacity to receive LNG in storage and reprocessing. gasification in Rotterdam and Eemshaven.

The Netherlands has used this imported LNG to meet domestic demand, which is down 22% from the previous year average, as well as to supply excess gas to the Czech Republic, Germany and France. Like many other places, the price of consumer gas in the Netherlands has skyrocketed, but the government has supported people with subsidy policies and imposed price ceilings.

“Last fall, I worried that some European countries would respond to the energy crisis by prioritizing domestic supply and stopping sharing with neighboring countries. devastating the continent’s economy and politics,” said Simone Tagliapietra, an energy expert at research organization Bruegel in Belgium. “But Europe has avoided the temptation of protectionism and preserved the integrity of its internal market.”

Spot gas prices fell to nearly $60 per megawatt-hour earlier this week, down from nearly $360 at the end of August last year and to the same level as September 2021, before the war in Ukraine broke out.

Over the course of last year, gas demand in the EU has fallen 12 percent from the 2019-2021 average, according to Bruegel.

Germany, which was once heavily dependent on Russian gas, has managed to reduce its gas consumption by 14% in 2022 compared to the 2018-2021 average. Germany entered February with its warehouses filled to 80%, compared with 36% in the same period last year.

High gas prices have hurt German industry, but the damage is less than catastrophic, with the country’s GDP shrinking only 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022. The German government last week said an economic recession will be “lighter and less time consuming” than expected.

The Nordic countries have been even more successful in reducing gas consumption, with Denmark reducing total electricity, industrial and heating demand by 24%, while Sweden by 36% and Finland by 47%.

Last summer, some southern European countries were initially reluctant to share the energy-saving burden with the rest of the continent. Spain agreed to reduce gas consumption by 7-8% after arguing that the 15% target is unfair to countries that are not heavily dependent on Russian gas.

However, Spain is still on a mission to reduce gas consumption. In July, the government announced a series of energy-saving measures, placing strict limits on air conditioning and heating temperatures in large commercial and public buildings.

According to Spanish regulations, heating in shopping malls, cinemas, theaters, train stations and airports should not be set above 19 degrees Celsius in winter and air conditioning should not be below 27 degrees Celsius in winter. summer.

As a result, Spain has achieved its reluctantly committed target, reducing its natural gas demand by 15% in the August-November period last year compared with the same period five years ago.

In France, Europe’s largest electricity exporter, efforts to save energy have been hampered by some of the country’s key nuclear reactors undergoing maintenance, affecting power output.

From early May to late October, about half of France’s 56 nuclear reactors were shut down for maintenance, making the country an importer of electricity. One of the countries that increased electricity exports to France during that period was Germany.

By mid-January, 73% of France’s nuclear reactors were back up and running, helping the country regain its position as Europe’s top exporter of electricity.

When nuclear power plants are in trouble, renewable energy has become the solution to help Europe overcome the crisis. According to analysis by Ember Climate, 22% of the European Union’s electricity in 2022 will come from solar and wind, bringing the renewable energy market share to overtaking gas for the first time.

A gas storage facility owned by commercial gas company VNG AG in Bad Lauchstaedt, Germany, on July 28.  Photo: Reuters.

A gas storage facility owned by commercial gas company VNG AG in Bad Lauchstaedt, Germany, on July 28. Image: Reuters.

In Northern Europe, wind becomes Sweden’s third largest source of electricity, after nuclear and hydroelectric power. Finland’s wind power also grew by 75% last year, allowing the country to increase its ability to self-sufficiency in energy supplies.

Plans to increase renewable energy production have been promoted by the three Nordic countries, with wind and solar power projected to double by 2030 and wind the dominant source of energy.

Russia’s strategy of turning energy into a weapon is again the driving force behind Sweden’s goal of increasing its share of the renewable energy market to 65% by the end of the decade, compared with 51% in Finland and 55% in Denmark. .

Tagliapietra, an expert at research organization Bruegel, said that in 2023, Europe will increasingly abandon gas in favor of renewable energy, helping to strengthen the security of its own economy and end dependence. dependent on Russian gas.

“Russia’s policy of weaponizing energy has prompted structural changes in Europe, helping to accelerate decarbonization,” the expert said. “The impact of that process is already being felt on the continent.”

Thanh Tam (Theo Guardian, FT)

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