The EU is too Dependent on Imported Energy
15 February 2022
The European Union has accomplished many of its energy policy goals. Energy efficiency has improved, the share of renewable energy has increased, and emissions have decreased; the latter two have progressed even faster than expected. In 2020, a milestone was reached when renewables overtook fossil fuels in the EU’s electricity mix.
On the other hand, the Energy Union’s stated objective of a reduction of import dependence has not been achieved; quite the opposite. Although the start of the crisis in Ukraine shifted the dynamic in this domain, the overall direction is not convincing. In 2020, energy imports into the EU rose to their highest level in 30 years, topping 60%. This is a major failure and is currently reflected by sharply rising energy prices.
The European Union is far too dependent on imported fossil energy, especially Russian natural gas. During the colder months of the year, this provides Russia with a very strong bargaining chip that it will not shy away from using when needed. From both an energy policy and a geopolitical perspective, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is a historic investment failure that will only exacerbate European dependence on Russian gas.
At a time when the European Union’s industrial policy calls for greater strategic autonomy, resilience, and security of supply on all fronts, the foundations of energy policy have been left unaddressed. As such, EU countries have rightly reduced their own fossil fuel consumption and abandoned coal in particular, but have not been able to sufficiently replace it with new low-emission alternatives. It has therefore become necessary to increase imports of fossil fuels.
Only now are EU countries beginning to wake up to the fact that, without significant additional investment in nuclear power, it will be very difficult for them to increase their use of carbon-neutral electricity, for example in heating, industry, and transport, and thus meet their climate targets. Many countries are reversing their decisions to close their nuclear power plants, and the new Dutch government, among others, has just announced a complete turnaround and the construction of two new nuclear power plants. Although the Netherlands has the image of an environmentally-conscious nation, it is highly dependent on fossil energy and one of the laggard EU nations, with its energy mix being comprised of less than 10% renewable energy.
After a winding process, the European Commission also agreed to include nuclear power, albeit on interpretative terms, in the scope of a sustainable financial classification system, the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities. This move was absolutely essential. It has been calculated that meeting the 2030 climate targets will now require an additional €350 billion investment in the EU each year compared to the previous decade.
The Commission’s decision reflects a simple reality: nuclear power must be strongly involved in the energy mix of tomorrow. Wind, solar and hydro power alone are not enough to secure the viability of our societies. It is also noteworthy that currently, 60% of the European Union’s renewable energy comes from biomass. Their use should not be severely restricted by legislation either, or it will once again result in an increasing dependence on fossil fuels.
Additional investment to counter the sharp rise in energy prices will not bring rapid relief. In the long-term, however, increasing Europe’s own low-emission energy production is key to building a sustainable energy model; this means investing in renewable energy, nuclear power, good transmission connections, and energy storage.
At present, each member state must do all it can through local means to alleviate the difficulties caused by the energy price crisis. In recent weeks, most EU countries have channelled various targeted subsidies to households, businesses or agriculture, including through reductions in energy taxes, vouchers or direct financial assistance for gas bills. However, in the long run, we must address our energy deficit. Europe can no longer be so dependent on imported energy, and it is very difficult to imagine how this dependency might be effectively reduced without nuclear energy. Solutions to Europe’s dependence on imported energy are still being sought at a European scale, and will be for the foreseeable future.
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