Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Europe's energy transformation encounters significant challenges

Why did Europe's energy transition take longer than expected?

The president of Lithuania is unabashed in his optimism about the future of the European Union, despite recent unfavorable developments in the economy and energy sectors. For Gitanas Nauseda, the current energy crisis presents an opportunity to shift away from Russian energy resources. Europe can take advantage of the current energy crisis to reform its energy system.

The latest plans of the European Union in the energy field lends credence to Lithuanian politicians’ optimism. As journalist Kate Abnett points out, most European Union countries have already boosted their renewable plans since 2020. According to the think tanks of Ember and the Centre for Research and Clean Air, 17 of the EU's 27 member states have raised their plans to use more renewable energy since 2020. According to the researchers, if the countries' most recent plans come to fruition, 63 percent of the EU's electricity would be produced from renewable sources by 2030, up from 55 percent under their 2019 targets.

Recent information from many fronts show that the European Union is far from the aim of energy transformation, notwithstanding the upbeat statements of European leaders and the new energy plans of European governments. The ambitious energy transformation plan of the European Union could be delayed because of the political decisions made by European leaders and practical obstacles.

Immediate needs overshadow long-term planning

For Phred Dvorak and Anna Hirtenstein, Europe’s energy transformation project will not be implemented immediately for one important reason: Europe's immediate needs overshadow the Union's long-term plans. Many nations have pledged to rely more heavily on fossil fuels because of the conflict in Ukraine. Additionally, a worsening energy crisis, a worldwide heat wave, skyrocketing costs, supply chain bottlenecks, and concerns about an economic slump are threatening to put off longer-term commitments to switching to lower-emission energy sources as well.

According to Dvorak and Hirenstein, the situation is especially dire in Europe, where the possibility of serious fuel shortages in winter focuses politicians' attention on urgent issues. Governments and businesses are frantically searching for supply solutions that involve more fossil fuels rather than fewer. Many people have committed to buying liquefied natural gas from the United States, Middle East, and Africa.

The latest Enerdata report, which emphasizes that "a high share of fossil fuel in the energy mix is a burden regarding greenhouse gas emissions and in terms of supply security," supports the caution of the two journalists. The EU severely depends on its finite and diminishing resources, with a dependency rate of 95% for oil (very stable) and 85% for gas (+15% over the past ten years). The recent string of crises (Covid-19, the increase in gas and power prices in 2021, and the Ukrainian crisis in 2022) serves as a merciless reminder that long-term climate goals cannot be met without concurrently addressing the concerns of energy affordability and security.

The report continues, emphasizing that "the recent crises show the need for the EU to decrease its dependence on fossil fuel imports and among the measures put in place to deal with high energy prices and dependency to Russian oil and gas imports, only a few have a direct positive impact on energy transition. The current natural gas supply uncertainty, which is not expected to disappear soon, let alone any potential future EU action, prompted several nations (like Germany) to drastically speed up the roll-out of additional renewable energy capacity. However, depending on how quickly EU natural gas prices rise, the value of natural gas as a transition fuel in the power mix may be questioned."

The practical aspect of the issue

Data analysis clarifies a crucial facet of Europe's energy issue. Europe needs natural gas as a temporary fuel to help the continent switch to renewable energy. It is impossible to switch to green energy without significant natural gas reserves. "When people think of the energy transition, they frequently picture wind turbines and solar roofs. When it is dark or cold, the strength of the wind and sun should bring light and warmth. This saves money and safeguards the environment. (But) Germany needs gas, billions of cubic meters a year, to make it happen." stresses Von Morten Friedel, who adds that gas-fired power plants should take over when there is a lull and the sky is cloudy or when a lot of electricity is being used.

Shedding light on one of the most critical aspects of the green energy transition project, the author adds: "Only a few months ago, experts were urging Germany to construct ten times as many gas-fired power plants as it now does during the next few years, with an output roughly equal to that of 16 nuclear power plants. Gas has been the true energy transition winner for a very long time. It was planned to serve as a gateway for Germany's transition into a renewable future. According to calculations made by Michael Beckmann, an energy professor at the Technical University of Dresden, the government would need to build four wind turbines in Germany every day for the next ten years to achieve its target. Beckmann queried how the model operates. Where would skilled laborers come from and where would the resources, which are currently in limited supply everywhere in the world, come from? Not to mention the political resistance.”

The political obstacles

The European Union faces political issues in green energy besides the issue's practical aspects. The president of the European Council has made a public admission that the Union has handled this matter poorly thus far. According to Charles Michel, the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen was late in responding to the energy crisis.

The Commission has been urged to address this matter by state and government leaders for many months. There was an agreement to ask the Commission to submit specific ideas, but there was disagreement over the type of decision that should be made. These words are summons to the leaders of the state and government, and not a condemnation. There is a perception that the Commission squandered time, which is regrettable, said Michel.

Michel's concerns have been validated by the most recent EU signals. The Polish prime minister stated the EU should prioritize other measures over a windfall levy on power producers in a sign of potential disagreements over Brussels' strategy to assist consumers through the energy crisis almost simultaneously with the European official's self-criticism, according to the Financial Times. To help reduce electricity costs, Mateusz Morawiecki recommended suspending the EU carbon trading plan as "a response to Putin, showing him we can rapidly react." Mateusz Morawiecki suggested temporarily halting the EU carbon trading plan to assist down electricity costs as "a response to Putin, showing him we can quick react."

The energy transformation goal also causes rifts within member states. The example of Germany, the Union's main economic engine, is typical. In Germany in recent weeks, Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) proposed alternative energy strategies for the winter, while Finance Minister and FDP leader Christian Lindner argued in favor of a real-life extension for the country’s last three nuclear power reactors. Habeck vehemently disagrees with this notion. After Habeck’s veto, all three plants will formally shut down. Christian Geinitz opposes this decision and emphasizes that it would be riskier for Germany to turn off functional, environmentally friendly, and economically viable electrical resources. According to Geinitz, because of Habeck's bad political choice, the German economy and private households are being stressed.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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