The ongoing green transition of our society is creating multiple issues all around Eu- rope. Rising energy prices are starting to take its toll on both businesses and in the households of Europe. With new climate targets and new policies to reach these we need to electrify more of the carbon emissions. The energy to do this has to be from green renewable sources of energy. The issues are clear, we need more power and this needs to be green. This has and will lead to further short-term issues that Europe needs to address.
With the rising tensions between Russia and Europe, slow increase in production from the OPEC-countries of oil and gas and several European countries moving away from nuclear power. Energy supply in Europe is becoming more unstable. This is compounded by stable sources of energy like nuclear and gas being exchanged with renewable but unstable sources like solar and wind. This mix of variables has led to the current situation where over the last couple of months, energy prices have been soaring in most European regions. This has led to higher costs for business and more importantly for many European households. Even though the rising prices are impacted by a broad range of both global and European factors, national and European decision makers need to act.
This has become a European issue due to the integrated European power markets; the power markets ensure that the participating European countries are able to supply each other in periods of shortage and it ensures a good diversification in the energy sources being supplied. The European energy markets however face a range of coming challenges, the green transition being one of the main areas. If we are to cut emissions without having to lower our European standard of living, we need to electrify most of our carbon emissions, this will lead to an even larger demand for green and renewable energy. If we are going to achieve this, we need to reduce our emission in the energy sector in steps, starting with the most emitting source; coal. Coal has for over a century been the backbone of European energy supply. In 2019 solid fossil fuels still accounted for 12.7% of the EUs energy mix. We need to transition away from coal as fast as possible, to do this whilst keeping up a steady and available power source we should transition totally out of coal and go into gas and renewables. The issues with this transition are threefold.
Firstly, the European gas supply is heavily connected to short term contracts (the EU not being able to set up long term contracts due to climate goals on carbon neutrality and so on), these short-term contracts will not ensure a stable supply. Another issue with gas supply is the reliance of Russian gas, and most of the gas production within Europe being the production in the North Sea by countries like Norway. This presents a problem as Norway already is exporting at full capacity and with limited new discoveries, the Norwegian petroleum sector is unable to increase or hold today’s production into the future. With the big security concerns today, Europe should not rely too much on Russian gas. Reliance on Russia will give them more leverage in any conflict (like the ongoing Ukraine crisis). With fears of their ability to manufacture an energy crisis, Russia could simply counter any European response with this threat. Thus, being able to dictate Europe’s direction and response to Russian aggression, this must be avoided. Therefore, transition into gas, although wanted short term, also comes with its own set of problems.
Secondly it would require an upscaling in renewable energy sources, this however is more easily said than done. Renewables are still developing and becoming more mature technologies, accounting for only 15.5% of the European energy mix. This however includes hydropower which is already largely exploited to the maximum amount. New renewable energy would have to come from sources like wind (in some places are largely unpopular) or solar (which is still very expensive to build), both of which are energy sources that are too unreliable to ensure a steady energy supply for the continent (the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine). This means that a full transition to renewables still is far towards the horizon and requires further technological advancement.
Thirdly we have the conundrum of nuclear power. Nuclear is by far the largest and most steady form of a carbon free source of energy. In the EU however nuclear only accounts for 13.1% of the energy mix, this due to nuclear also having its problems. Firstly, major countries like Germany and Sweden are scaling down their production of nuclear energy due to political opposition. This means that even with construction of new plants in countries like Finland and France, nuclear will not be able to be an alternative to coal due to the downscaling. This is further problematic due to other countries not really being able to increase production due to the immense costs and time-consuming effort of constructing further new plants. Meaning that although perhaps one of the best ways of ensuring stable and carbon free energy and therefore being the “easiest” road to carbon neutrality, even nuclear energy is not the solution, currently.
With these three issues in store, Europe is maybe facing one of its biggest crises in a long time. How are we to meet the energy demands of the future? Certainly, these are issues that European decision makers need to start to think about and come up with solutions for. Are we going to bite the bullet and restart a new vision of nuclear power? Should we ignore security concerns and rely on Russian gas? Or should we set the electrifying and green transitions on pause? These are questions that need to be answered quickly. To conclude, not only is this an upcoming crisis, the crisis is already on our doorstep. With energy prices soaring, hurting the European consumers, and demand for energy rising every year, we need to produce more power. With the Paris Climate Accords goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5% °C we need to transition away from solid fossil fuels. The fate of Europe’s energy supply is in the hands of the governments of Europe and the decision makers of the European Union. Let us all hope they act.