Energy battle won, but fight not over, says EU energy chief
The EU has successfully made it through the winter despite Russia’s attempts to disrupt its gas supplies, but there is still a lot of work needed to protect future energy security, said EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson on Monday (27 February).
“By many standards, Europe is now more energy secure, less dependent [on] Russia and stronger than it was a year ago,” said Simson at a press conference following a meeting of EU energy and transport ministers.
“The test is not over. We have just won the first battle and there is still a long fight ahead of us,” she added.
To further strengthen its hand, the EU needs to work on diversifying its energy supply, deploying more renewables, reducing energy demand and ensuring it has sufficient gas in storage to get through next winter, according to Simson.
The meeting of energy and transport ministers on Monday included discussions on how to protect the EU energy market and secure Europe’s supply for next winter and beyond, as well as looking at growing a competitive and climate-friendly transport system.
EU survived energy troubles in 2022
Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was the EU’s largest gas supplier. In 2021, it provided 45% of the bloc’s imports and almost 40% of its total consumption.
However, issues arose when Gazprom storages were not filled as expected in 2021 and, throughout 2022, Russia gradually turned off the gas taps, meaning its supplies now constitute under 10% of EU imports.
Together, these disrupted the EU energy market, pushing up prices and causing concerns about whether Europe would have enough gas to get through the winter. However, the bloc made it safely through the coldest months, without major disruptions and with plenty of gas still in storage.
“Today we can say that Russia’s energy blackmail has failed,” announced Simson, adding that Europe is likely to end the heating season – a period that runs from 1 October to 31 March – with its storage over 50% full, around double what it was last year.
But “there is no room for complacency”, she continued, pointing to the need to increase renewables and further work with international partners to secure gas for this year.
Ebba Busch, the energy minister of Sweden, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, agreed that Europe still has its work cut out for it.
“It is clear that Europe has made enormous progress on managing gas supplies since the start of the war. But one conclusion is clear. It is not over yet and next winter will bring new challenges,” said Busch.
“The supply needs to be secured as soon as possible to avoid extreme gas and electricity prices and, worse, a gas shortage,” she added.
Finding alternative suppliers was one of the ways Europe managed to counter the shortages last year, with US shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the EU almost doubling.
Alongside this, renewables were key to replacing Russian gas, with almost 50 gigawatts of new capacity, mostly solar and wind, installed last year.
EU slashed gas consumption by 20% in August-November: Eurostat
European countries collectively reduced their gas consumption by 20.1% compared to the average of the same months between 2017 and 2021, according to figures released on Tuesday (20 December) by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics body.
New demand reduction target
Another measure that helped shield Europe was reducing the demand for gas. In 2022, facing an uncertain winter and scarce supplies, EU countries agreed to a 15% voluntary demand reduction target for gas.
The EU subsequently overshoot that target, achieving a reduction of almost 19%, said Simson.
“We consider continuing demand reduction a no regret option. It is key to ensure our preparedness for the next winter and for reaching the 90% storage target by the first of November,” she added.
The demand reduction target that helped drive the savings is due to expire in March, but the EU is looking into the possibility of extending it.
According to Simson, there was a broad understanding among EU ministers that LNG markets will remain “very tense”, due to Russia continuing to put lower volumes of gas on the market and China coming out of COVID lockdowns.
Regarding the demand reduction target, the European Commission will see “if there is a willingness” to extend the temporary measure and will then see when this could be proposed for adoption by EU countries, she added.
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EU energy ministers greenlit a plan on Tuesday (26 July) to reduce gas consumption and prepare for potential disruptions to Russian gas flows after a power struggle with the European Commission over who could implement mandatory targets.