European Renewable Energy

New EU Targets Move Towards Energy Security

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted January 8, 2009

A cold man is an angry man.

Same goes for countries. European leaders are pushing hard for a thaw in Russia and Ukraine's perennial gas dispute. Clean energy is the best bet for preventing a repeat.

Russia's natural gas export monopoly Gazprom and neighboring Ukraine's fuel transport company Naftogaz are volleying blame for what EU energy heads call a "severe disruption." 40% of Europe's gas comes through Ukraine, and that supply has slowed to a trickle due to the stalemate.

It's a pricing dispute at its essence, with Russia pushing for settlement of debts on its terms and accusing Ukraine of siphoning gas destined for EU member states.

But this is also a prime example of the unacceptable stranglehold fossil fuel still has on Europe. That could change soon.

As 2008 drew to a close, the EU announced its "20/20/20" package. Under that plan, Europe advances towards the overarching goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 20% from 1990's levels. Renewable energy will also contribute an increased 20% of the total continental electricity mix for the EU. Both of those targets are legally binding and must be achieved by 2020.

Aside from kickstarting a new international energy economy—one that has already produced European clean energy titans like Denmark's Vestas—EU clean energy targets will enhance continental energy security.

So, the current tension between Russia and Ukraine is actually a boon to Europe's renewable energy momentum.


Know Thy Neighbor

EU energy head Andris Piebalgs is a Latvian, formerly a denizen of the USSR and, as such, naturally skeptical of Moscow's proclaimed intentions.

So, when Russia said that it intended to maintain the flow of natgas to Europe through Ukrainian pipelines, European officials like Piebalgs and national energy chiefs were still biting their nails. They wondered if they could bank on fluctuating price structures and thin goodwill between Ukraine and Russia.

Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are now set to resume with EU mediation; but, the damage has been done, and European confidence in Russian gas supplies has been shaken once again.

The fact that official media in Russia is accusing Ukraine of stealing gas just accentuates the animosity many Eastern Europeans still feel and sets up a more adversarial relationship between Russia and its wealthier European customers like France and Germany.

Of the 27 nations that are now part of the EU, almost half were once Warsaw Pact countries. That means their political brass, their educational systems, and their energy infrastructure are legacies of Soviet power. Lithuania, for one example, has been told by the EU to shut down its Chernobyl-era nuclear reactor at Ignalina, but its electricity options are limited.

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, as well as other newer EU states, will benefit from western leadership. In addition to the 20/20/20 plan, EU founders aim to assist developing countries in Europe and elsewhere through the new International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA).

IRENA is launching this month under the leadership of three European renewable energy pioneers—Denmark, Germany, and Spain.

Though none of these countries touch Russia, disruption of the westward flow of natural gas affects them greatly.

IRENA should make its first goal a push for greater inclusion of renewable energy heating in targets like 20/20/20. Internationally, the majority of clean energy progress goals center on electricity, but relatively little headway has been made towards energy independence in heating fuel.

The reality of the situation is that Russian gas will be used in Europe for a long time to come, and EU leaders have to deal with that problem. But in the long run, ramping up renewables in every energy sector will be the best way to free countries all across Europe from the yoke of Russian fuel supply.



Sam Hopkins

International Editor, Green Chip Review

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