Russia oil sanctions: Ukraine conflict increases pressure on Europe to explore renewable energy

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jill Namatsi

As Russia’s war against Ukraine unfolds, several of the world’s superpowers, including the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, have tightened the noose around the country with additional sanctions, in a bid to force it to stand down. 

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, arguing it needed to quash a constant threat from that country and keep its people safe. However, it has been accused of plotting an illegitimate invasion of its neighbour.

Since then, the damage for both countries has been huge. For Russia, a major consequence has been a ban on the importation of its oil and gas, hurting its earnings as the world’s top exporter of at least 7 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products per day.

Thus far, the US has banned importation of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal. Meanwhile, the UK intends to shut off Russia’s oil taps by the end of this year. Australia is planning to follow suit.

Sanctions by other countries are likely because while many residents of the EU are supporting the Ukrainians’ plight, the EU’s reliance on Russian oil and gas helps fund the war.

The continent imports about 42 percent of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. The EU is looking into alternative supplies of oil and gas, but since these alone won’t suffice, it is also looking into renewables to diversify.

Renewables – solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, biomass and hydropower – have received a boost in recent weeks. The thinking is that the war could speed up the transition into their use.

Ember, a climate and energy think tank, argues that “renewables can be deployed quickly to reduce Europe’s reliance on fossil gas”. It cites the cases of The Netherlands and Spain, where it says that “in just 2 years, rapid renewables growth achieved huge falls in fossil gas”.

Generally, however, although renewable sources of energy are cheaper than gas, their usage statistics have been low.

According to a Statista report on energy consumption in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, “fossil fuels dominated primary energy consumption, accounting for roughly 85 percent of the total consumption in 2020″.

By contrast, hydroelectricity and renewable energies combined accounted for 15 percent of the region’s consumption.

But there is hope.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is a pressure group that promotes the use of renewable energy. In a recent report, they claimed that the EU now expects to increase its output from solar and wind power “by over 100 terawatt-hours (TWh), a rise of more than 15% compared with 2021”, boosted by more favourable weather conditions, with the end of winter. 

For the dream to come true, and quickly, all players in the sector must put up a united front. 

“A concerted policy effort to fast-track further renewable capacity additions could deliver another 20 TWh over the next year”, the report added.

“Most of this would be utility-scale wind and solar PV projects for which completion dates could be brought forward by tackling delays with permitting bodies.”

As such, the agency advises the EU to build administrative capacity, review the responsibilities of permitting bodies, set and strictly adhere to deadlines and digitalise applications.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, says that Britain’s renewable capacity has increased by 500 percent since 2010 but notes that there is “way more to do”.

“So we are accelerating renewables with annual CfD auctions”, he tweeted. “The more cheap, clean power we generate at home, the less exposed we’ll be to global gas markets.”

The CfD, short for “Contracts for Difference“, refers to the UK Government’s scheme to support low-carbon electricity generation. The Government says they “incentivise investment in renewable energy by providing developers of projects with high upfront costs and long lifetimes, with direct protection from volatile wholesale prices”.

CfDs also “protect consumers from paying increased support costs when electricity prices are high”, the Government adds. 

Amid the plans for a possible transition to renewables, it is intriguing that focus appears to be on wind and solar energy.

This raises the question of whether further investment at the moment should focus on these two options or on all others.

Europe could also diversify using traditional sources such as coal and nuclear energy, while also investing in imports from oil and gas-rich nations.

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