How can Europe dramatically reduce natural gas imports from Russia within a year?

According to a recent IEA estimate, the European Union could reduce its imports of Russian natural gas by more than one-third in a year by implementing a mix of policies that are consistent with the European Green Deal and enhance energy security and affordability.

The European Union’s dependency on Russian natural gas imports has been highlighted once again by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The IEA’s 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas includes a number of complementary actions that can be implemented in the coming months, such as increasing reliance on other suppliers, utilizing alternative energy sources, and speeding up efforts to provide consumers, businesses, and industry with clean and efficient natural gas alternatives. The suggested improvements are fully compatible with the EU’s European Green Deal and its Fit for 55 package, laying the path for future emissions reductions.

The European Union imported 155 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia in 2021, accounting for over 45 percent of EU gas imports and close to 40 percent of total gas consumption. Progress toward Europe’s net-zero goals will reduce gas use and imports over time, but the current crisis raises the specific subject of Russian imports and what more can be done in the short term to reduce them.

“No one has any illusions now.” “Russia’s use of natural gas as an economic and political weapon demonstrates that Europe must act promptly to avoid significant uncertainty about Russian gas supply next winter,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The IEA’s 10-Point Plan lays out concrete methods to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas imports by more than a third in a year while promoting a secure and affordable transition to renewable energy.” Europe has to limit Russia’s dominance in its energy markets as swiftly as feasible, and scale up alternative energy sources as quickly as possible.”

“More than ever, getting rid of Russian fossil fuels, and fossil fuels in general, is important,” said Barbara Pompili, Minister for Ecological Transition for France, which now holds the EU Presidency. The need to speed the battle against climate change, as well as, as we can see now, the European continent’s short-term energy security, are at stake. The IEA’s 10-Point Plan, which was released today, will help us think more clearly. We will examine these recommendations in depth, since the French President released a major resilience strategy for the country yesterday. My administration is working on a series of steps to preserve the stability of our energy system as part of this strategy, which will undoubtedly reflect the IEA’s recommendations.”

“Reducing our reliance on Russian gas is a strategic objective for the European Union,” said Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy. We’ve already diversified our supply in recent years by establishing LNG terminals and additional interconnectors. However, Russia’s war on Ukraine represents a turning point. The Commission will present a strategy for Europe to become gas-independent from Russia as soon as feasible next week. The IEA’s study identifies a number of specific initiatives that can be taken to achieve that goal. It’s a timely and significant contribution to our work.”

Not signing any new gas contracts with Russia; maximizing gas supplies from other sources; accelerating the deployment of solar and wind; maximizing existing low-emission energy sources, such as nuclear and renewables; and ramping up energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses are among the key actions recommended in the IEA’s 10-Point Plan.

The IEA predicts that if these initiatives are taken combined, the European Union’s Russian gas imports could be reduced by more than 50 billion cubic meters, or more than one-third, within a year. This takes into account the need for increased gas storage facility replenishment in Europe in 2022. Many of the recommendations in the plan are major elements of the IEA’s Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050, including increasing energy efficiency measures, speeding renewable deployment, and extending low-emission sources of power system flexibility.

Other options are available to the EU if it wants or needs to reduce its reliance on Russian gas even faster, according to the IEA report, but they come with considerable trade-offs. The most immediate solution would be to shift away from gas in the power sector, either by increasing the usage of Europe’s coal-fired fleet or by employing alternative fuels, such as oil, in existing gas-fired power plants.

These alternatives to gas consumption are not included in the 10-Point Plan since they are not in line with the European Green Deal. They could also be expensive in terms of money. They could, however, quickly displace significant amounts of gas. If the fuel-switching option were completely implemented in addition to the 10-Point Plan, it would result in a total annual reduction in EU gas imports from Russia of more than 80 billion cubic meters, or more than half, while still resulting in a minor reduction in overall emissions.

It will need a determined and continuous policy effort across various sectors, as well as robust international engagement on energy markets and security, for the EU to reduce its dependency on Russian gas. There are numerous connections between Europe’s policy decisions and global market balances. It will be vital to improve international coordination with alternative pipeline and LNG suppliers, as well as other key gas importers and consumers. For successful implementation, clear communication between governments, industry, and consumers is also required. The IEA will continue to serve as a focal point for global discourse on how to achieve a safe and sustainable energy future as the world’s premier energy authority.