In an effort to end its importation of Russian fossil fuels by 2027, the European Commission will boost renewable energy production and efficiency, according to a Bloomberg News report, a move that experts say could benefit the fight to control climate change.
On May 18, the executive branch of the European Union will propose increasing its clean energy target for 2030 from 40% of its total energy production to 45%, and it will also require member states to decrease energy consumption by 13% over the course of the decade, up from the currently required 9% decrease.
Experts in European energy and international climate policy say these moves, while resulting in only a small reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, are part of a positive shift away from reliance on fossil fuels.
“In the long run, it will be beneficial for emissions and the cost,” Ana Maria Jaller-Makarewicz, energy analyst for Europe at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told Yahoo News. “We cannot continue with this volatile market.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting price spike, Jaller-Makarewicz said, “has shown Europe how volatile the price is, the supply is, for gas.”
Jaller-Makarewicz and others cautioned that even as Europe hopes to boost its clean energy goals, it is also making plans to replace Russian natural gas with liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from the United States and the Middle East. Given that LNG has a higher carbon footprint than conventional gas due to the energy demands of liquefaction and transportation, that will offset some of the climate benefits of the clean energy and efficiency improvements.
But experts also note that the EU is trying to avoid committing to locking in long-term fossil fuel infrastructure and supplies that would prevent it from meeting its goal of reducing carbon emissions enough to avert catastrophic climate change. For example, Reuters reported earlier this week that Germany is having trouble negotiating an agreement to buy LNG from Qatar because Qatar wants a commitment lasting at least 20 years. Germany hopes to cut its emissions by 88% by 2040, so it intends to no longer need imported natural gas for energy and heating within the next two decades.
“The reality is more positive, but it is a little mixed,” Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director for international climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Yahoo News. “The EU is trying to wean itself off of Russian gas quite quickly, but it’s not throwing out its climate targets as a result, which is good. So what they’re looking at is, ‘How could we build some short-term infrastructure to shift our gas supplies?’ They’re trying to do that in a way that doesn’t lock them into infrastructure that’s worthless from a climate standpoint over the long term.”
European nations are doing this in two ways, Schmidt said: They are leaning toward building floating LNG import terminals offshore, less permanent than on-shore structures, and they are trying to construct them in a way that they can be switched from being used for LNG to hydrogen in the future.
“They clearly recognize, both in the short and long term, [the need] to double down on their climate strategy,” Schmidt said. It takes two to five years to build an LNG import terminal, which is longer than it takes to build a new wind or solar farm.
Currently, oil and gas consumers across the world are paying record-high prices. In addition to reducing emissions and taking money out of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war chest at a time when he has invaded Ukraine and is threatening other countries in Europe, the EU believes its forthcoming energy transition plan will save consumers money on gas. Bloomberg reported that its sources estimated a total annual savings of 80 billion euros on gas, 12 billion euros on oil and 1.7 billion euros on coal.
Skeptics may nonetheless worry that renewable energy mandates will increase the price of electricity. Wind and solar energy are increasingly cost-competitive with gas and cheaper than coal, but some studies have shown that renewable energy portfolio standards increase energy prices by forcing utilities to invest in new wind and solar installations before their existing coal- or gas-fired power plants would otherwise need to be replaced.
Most experts, however, are confident that dropping prices and other measures being taken in Europe, such as streamlining renewable energy permitting processes, will make the EU’s plan to ramp up renewables actually cheaper than importing increasingly pricey fossil fuels.
“It’s an important step in eventually completing this transition that they’re trying to drive towards as quickly as possible to get off fossil fuels and dependency altogether,” Pete Ogden, vice president for energy, climate and the environment at the United Nations Foundation, told Yahoo News. “They’re going to find the alternatives increasingly economically attractive.”