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Climate ChangeGreen Winter: Europe Learns to Live Without Russian Energy

Green Winter: Europe Learns to Live Without Russian Energy

When a chilly snap hit northern Europe last November, peculiar residents and industry leaders alike feared the onset of an agonizing winter of deprivation, spiraling energy prices, unheated buildings, and work stoppages. In any case, embargoes in place in consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had severely curtailed oil and gas deliveries to many countries and upended supply chains that much of Europe had come to depend on.

Germany — whose industrial economy depended heavily on Russian fuel — scurried to revive its mothballed coal-fired power plants, construct liquefied natural gas terminals, and secure recent gas supplies from the world over. Painful though it was to European environmentalists, efforts to slash emissions took a back seat to creating it through the winter by any means needed.

But defying the grimmest of projections, Europe made it through the temperate winter with remarkably few casualties — and even with a number of big wins to its credit. The trouble can have displaced Europe’s climate aspirations by a fraction, with 17 of Europe’s resuscitated coal plants belching out 16 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2022. But because of a record rollout of renewable energy sources combined with conservation measures, the continent’s emissions footprint actually positioned the EU to stay close by of its goal to slash emissions by at the least 55 percent in seven years’ time. In a yr when planetary emissions edged upward, Europe is now on course to comfortably outpace its pledge to generate 40 percent of its total energy from renewable sources by 2030.

In 2022, Europe saw wind and solar energy overtake nuclear power and natural gas for the primary time.

“We did it!,” proclaimed Germany’s each day, Süddeutsche Zeitung, in late February. “No freezing, no unrest, no mass bankruptcy. Russia’s weaponizing of gas has been disabled. Germany and Europe have bought themselves helpful time.”

“We were rattling lucky,” says Karsten Neuhoff of DIW Berlin, an economic research institute, qualifying the newspaper’s bravado by pointing to the unseasonably warm winter, China’s ebb in gas demand, which freed up resources for Europe and kept prices lower, and the restarting of a few of France’s nuclear reactors, which had been offline for maintenance or repairs, in January of this yr.

By way of climate protection, Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, an independent Finnish research organization, says that Europe, despite all of the hardships attributable to the war in Ukraine, took an enormous stride in 2022 — the results of extraordinarily high fossil fuel prices, which spurred energy conservation, faster-than-ever deployment of unpolluted tech, and ramped up EU policies. “This portends Europe’s nearly complete phaseout of coal and a considerable reduction in natural gas generation in the facility sector by 2030,” says Myllyvirta. “We’re moving in that direction now.”

The key to Europe’s success was its expansive deployment of solar PV and wind farms, which had a combined generation that jumped by 15 percent in 2022 over the previous yr, offsetting the deleterious burning of coal and together overtaking, for the primary time, electricity generated by each gas and nuclear power.

Employees install a solar panel on a house in Barcelona, Spain, last September.
Angel Garcia / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wind power, the presumptive backbone of Europe’s future electric supply, provided the most important boost. Onshore and offshore wind farms met 17 percent of European Union and United Kingdom power demand in 2022, roughly reminiscent of the generation of 255 medium-sized nuclear reactors. Led by the continent’s wind energy powerhouses — Germany, Sweden, Finland, and France — Europe installed more recent wind capability than ever before.

Still, the pace of wind turbine rollouts was slower than that envisioned by the European Green Deal, the EU’s 2020 roadmap for carbon neutrality by 2050. Experts blamed the prodigious red tape that European developers must wade through.

“The entire process — the planning, permitting, and financing — has to get simpler,” says DIW Berlin’s Neuhoff, noting that the German government is now working on this. A law that went into effect this yr stipulates that a minimum of two percent of Germany’s land mass be put aside for onshore wind energy. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz predicted that this law, along with others that simplify wind farm development, would add “4 to 5 wind turbines per day” until 2030.

“People appeared to understand that they’ve to avoid wasting gas to forestall the crisis from escalating — and so they did.”

In contrast to the brand new wind farms, the expansion of unpolluted tech that could be quickly deployed by residents and businesses — rooftop solar, electric vehicles, and residential heat pumps — shattered records and emptied warehouses. “Solar panels could be bought online, e-cars at an area automotive dealership,” says Myllyvirta. Such investments helped increase solar generation across the EU by 24 percent, in line with the worldwide energy think tank Ember. Installing heat pumps is more involved, Myllyvirta notes, but sales of this equipment in 2022 jumped almost 38 percent over 2021.

Limited supplies and shortages of expert labor, not demand, kept all three technologies from growing much more, he notes. “However the demand signals are pushing suppliers to scale up as fast as possible.”

The surge in clean-energy technologies not only filled in for the missing Russian gas, it also helped offset the lack of about 32 percent of the nuclear and hydropower generated last yr, a trend that raises questions on the reliability of those energy sources in the long run — in Europe and beyond. The autumn in nuclear power resulted largely from France’s chronically ailing fleet, while hydropower suffered from exceptionally dry summer conditions that repeated this past January.

Europe profited immensely from the determined efforts of its residents and its private sector to scale back energy use. Households turned down thermostats, switched off nonessential lighting, took shorter showers, donned heavier sweaters and wool socks, vacationed closer to home, and insulated windows and doors, amongst other energy efficiency measures.

To conserve energy, this restaurant in Alessandria, Italy, turned off its lights and set out candles.

To conserve energy, this restaurant in Alessandria, Italy, turned off its lights and set out candles.
Diana Bagnoli / Getty Images

In Germany, nobody was certain whether people would cooperate of their very own volition. But research has shown that together with a comparatively mild winter, conservation efforts by individuals, businesses, and even factories reduced overall gas consumption by 15 percent. Individual motivations varied: many saw no alternative within the face of soaring energy bills and inflated consumer prices; others framed their sacrifice by way of solidarity with the people of Ukraine or as a boon to climate protection. Whatever the rationale, Europeans launched into the energy-saving actions that efficiency experts have long advocated — and hope to make everlasting.

“There was a positive attitude about conserving energy,” says Neuhoff. “People appeared to understand that they’ve to avoid wasting gas to forestall the crisis from escalating — and so they did.” And, emphasizes Neuhoff, “Industry reduce even greater than peculiar people.” Citing high energy prices and the scaling back of some production, the economic sector slashed gas use by around 25 percent.

Governments lent a helping hand, approving emergency heating-cost subsidies and passing energy-savings ordinances. In Germany, for instance, retail stores were required to maintain their doors shut in the course of the day to conserve heat and to show off nighttime promoting lights to scale back electricity consumption. In Denmark, Christmas lighting was reduced; Finns were encouraged to spend fewer hours within the sauna; and France banned the usage of hot water in public buildings.

The EU, an establishment that rarely squanders the chance to capitalize on a crisis, set into motion an ambitious updating of the Green Deal that may rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels by 2027 and fast forward its green transition. Later this month, the EU is anticipated to ratchet up its renewable energy goal from 40 to 45 percent of total production, push forward binding efficiency measures, and commit to spending an extra 210 billion euros on recent energy infrastructure.

The mothballed Mehrum coal-fired power plant in Hohenhameln, Germany was brought back online last August to help curb the use of natural gas.

The mothballed Mehrum coal-fired power plant in Hohenhameln, Germany was brought back online last August to assist curb the usage of natural gas.
Julian Stratenschulte / Picture-Alliance/ DPA / AP Images

For its part, the German government is currently discussing a controversial ban on just about all recent oil and gas heating systems as of 2024. Proposed by the Green Party, the draft law calls for switching from natural gas and oil-burning systems to heat pumps, the burning of biomass, and district heating that relies on renewables and waste heat.

Despite the welcome news, Europe must still reach higher to recalibrate life without Russian fossil fuels and hit its climate goals. The longer-term projects, like retrofitting all of Europe’s housing stock for energy efficiency, lag woefully behind. In accordance with Neuhoff, Germany should regularly up the pace of the energy-efficient refurbishing of old buildings from 1 percent a yr to 4 percent a yr. Heating and cooling currently accounts for about half of the energy consumed by European homes and businesses, greater than a 3rd of its greenhouse gas emissions, and 35 percent of the EU’s gas consumption, in line with DIW Berlin.

The International Energy Agency warns that next winter, the EU could face a possible shortfall of just about 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas if Chinese demand rebounds and temperatures plummet. The EU itself estimates that it must nearly double its renewable power generation by 2030 simply to hit its own emissions targets. Unless Europe pushes even further — in clean energy expansion, smart grid rollout, adoption of electrical vehicles, constructing retrofits, and increasing energy storage capability — it’d find itself feeling wistful in regards to the comfortable winter of 2022-23.


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