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European Union  |  April 12, 2024 08:48:00, updated

Europe has taken its energy destiny back into its own hands

Europe has taken its energy destiny back into its own hands

By Ursula von der Leyen and Fatih Birol

Ursula von der Leyen is President of the European Commission. Fatih Birol is Executive Director of the International Energy Agency.


Spring has come, Winter has gone. Like last winter, Europe moved out of its second winter since Russia's invasion of Ukraine without energy shortages, blackouts, cold homes or supply cuts. Quite the opposite, Europe ended winter with a remarkable milestone for its energy sector: EU storages were almost 60% full, a record amount.

This didn't grab the headlines, but it matters. Because it shows that Europe has finally loosened the grip that Russia had over its energy sector. Europe has taken its energy destiny back into its own hands.

Let us explain how. Cast your minds back to 2021, well before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Already then, Russia was failing to fill gas storages to their usual levels in advance of winter. This was a clear attempt to play on our gas dependence, to increase Russia's leverage.

Then came the invasion of Ukraine. And President Putin decided that, faced with European solidarity, he would use this leverage against us, against Europe, by cutting gas supplies and using high fuel prices as his weapon.

We all carry the bruises from Putin's decisions. Europeans have struggled with the resulting pressures on the cost of living. And as gas storage levels ebbed and flowed, they became a barometer of our vulnerability, of our energy insecurity. But that barometer is now stable, trending in the right direction. Our choices were good ones. Europe has made real progress in improving the resilience of its energy system. Gas prices have come down sharply. Since the beginning of this year, they are consistently below €30 per megawatt hour.

What did we do? Europe acted quickly and we acted together. We used the strengths of our single market. We could call on the strengths of our friends that provided us with alternative supplies. By now, the EU's main supplier of natural gas is Norway, a trusted ally.

But most importantly, we worked on a structural response to this crisis, by investing massively in renewable energy, by boosting energy efficiency. And the results speak for themselves. Two years ago – and these are figures from the International Energy Agency – one in five units of energy consumed in the European Union came from Russian fossil fuels. Today, it is one in twenty. We get more energy overall from renewables in the European Union than from Russia. Last year, in 2023, for the first time ever, we produced more electricity from wind than from gas.

Europe is bringing down its consumption in line with our climate goals. But that doesn't mean we need to stop thinking about gas markets. Because we're now heading towards a different set of issues and challenges. A large wave of new LNG exports projects is coming to market in the second half of the decade, mostly from the United States and from Qatar. These projects are going to increase global supply of LNG by 50%. As a result, we're moving from a world of shortfalls of gas to the opposite, a world where we could soon see an abundance. This could bring significantly lower gas prices.

At the same time, the share of gas imports from Russia fell from 45% before the war in Ukraine to 15% last year. Gone are the days of Europe's dependency on Russia. With the cuts in Russian pipeline deliveries, LNG has now effectively become Europe's baseload source of gas supply. It will remain important for our energy costs and our energy security for some time to come, even as we build up a new clean energy economy.

But we also remain focused on the broader picture. We are in a climate emergency. In the economy of the future, competitiveness and sustainability must go hand in hand. Affordable prices for energy are a key factor. But cheaper gas does not relieve Europe and other major economies of the responsibility to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible, and to help other countries do the same. To do so, we need to tackle all sources of emissions, including emissions from gas.

That means insisting on near-zero methane emissions from the gas that we continue to use, whether produced here or imported. It means drastically scaling up renewables, renewable gases, energy efficiency, clean hydrogen and other clean energy technologies.

It also means working hand in hand with industry, and supporting it to build a business model fit for a decarbonized economy. That was the purpose of the Clean Transition Dialogues the Commission organized between November and last week.

In other words, while Europe came out stronger of the past winters, we also remain laser-focused on the lasting solutions to our energy dilemmas.

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