Russia’s War: Why Going Green is a Geopolitical Imperative

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio and Brian Santo

Reliance on Russian fossil fuels is going to make this war worse for everyone. Renewables were part of the answer. They still could be.

In 2022, we should be solving energy challenges without using weapons to destroy the earth. In 2022, we should be implementing renewable energy resources and ensuring a bright future for our children. We should be cutting carbon emissions. The war that broke out in Ukraine today reminds us of our collective failure.

As James Temple wrote in Technology Review, “the conflict threatens to drive energy costs even higher, forcing nations to come to terms with their deep dependence on Russian fossil fuels.” Russia President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine not only has scared the general markets of all states, but the escalation of this conflict could lead to major consequences on the energy front.

The biggest cost in any war is lives. One of the next biggest costs is the damage done to the way we live, and energy supply is critical to modern societies. Many of Ukraine’s allies rely on Russia for fossil fuels. Why are so many countries still reliant on a fossil fuel supplied from Russia, despite pledging to eliminate all carbon emissions from their economy by 2050?

Russia is one of the world’s leading producers of fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. It is the second-largest gas exporter behind the United States. Any sanctions on Russia will affect the entire energy grid. Europe is still largely dependent on fossil fuels for its overall domestic energy supply.

About 40% of Europe’s natural gas is supplied through Moscow, largely via pipelines and according to the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, in 2021, Ukraine handled 22% of the gas transported from Russia to Europe (including Turkey). According to Bloomberg, that’s about 177 billion cubic meters below the minimum target for deliveries to Europe (183 billion cubic meters). This makes the question particularly urgent: what would happen to these gas flows in the event of a Russian invasion?

According to a report last year by the European Commission, oil, natural gas, coal, and other fossil fuels account for about 70 percent of total energy consumption in the European Union. With over 40% of the gas supply, Russia has a significant share of the market.

The United States and Europe were preparing to retaliate against Russia with a slew of sanctions. In response to Putin’s actions, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced measures to halt the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline even though Germany is still heavily reliant on Russian fuels.

Most industry analysts predict similar scenarios for the results of those sanctions. Those scenarios include price hikes or Russia’s blocking of sources. The worst-case scenario includes transmission failure. A long-term gas shortage would necessitate a massive effort that only nuclear power facilities can currently offer.

An interesting article published in Bruegel highlights how this would require increasing domestic production, tapping into emergency reserves, finding alternative suppliers, delaying the retirement of nuclear plants, and potentially bringing some coal plants back online.

Europe’s strategy should be to accelerate the transition to renewable energy so that it is no longer dependent on Russian gas. This conflict demonstrates that this should have been the main course of action all along. It takes time to build renewables, electrify heating, and diversify fuels for heavy industry. And it takes time to create the infrastructure needed to wean world markets from natural gas. Russia is still the cheapest gas for Europe. So there will be some payoff in response to this change.

In practice, natural gas emits less CO2 than coal and can be counted on to deliver reliable power during peak demand. However, in comparison to the world’s leading suppliers, Europe produces very little of it.

Europe faces a complex balancing act and energy system transformation in the next years. According to the European Commission, the EU should cut gas consumption by 30% by 2030 compared to 2015 levels, and 96% by 2050. Perhaps it is time to begin lowering gas consumption now in order to focus on alternative renewables.

It’s the right thing to do for the environment. This war, and the way it will disrupt global society, reminds us that it has been the right thing to do for geopolitical reasons too. We knew that all along, and now we stand to pay a much heavier price for our foot-dragging than many of us anticipated.

We can still act however. By acting now, we can avoid some of the costs of future conflicts – perhaps even remove one of the causes of potential future conflicts, while doing what has been the right thing anyway.

And the electronics industry, which will make the renewable energy market possible and increasingly more efficient, needs to not just provide enabling technology, but provide leadership on this path.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

Brian Santo is Editor-in-Chief of EE Times. He has been writing about technology for over 30 years, for a number of publications including Electronic News, IEEE Spectrum, and CED; this is his second stint with EE Times (the first was 1989-1997). A former holder of a Radio Telephone Third Class Operator license, he once worked as an engineer at WWWG-AM. He is based in Portland, OR.

Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.

 

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