Russia’s attack on Ukraine has seriously jeopardized energy markets and EU security. To resolve its dependence on Russian energy imports, Germany is implementing an ambitious renewable energy reform to ensure its national energy security.
Europe is living through its darkest hours since the Second World War. At dawn on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine. The decision came shortly after the official recognition of the breakaway republics of Donbass and Donetsk located on Ukrainian territory. Russian missile strikes have begun hitting the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and several other cities. It soon became clear that Putin’s ambitions went beyond the control of the disputed eastern regions; he orchestrated a military occupation of the entire territory.
In Ukraine, Putin’s troops met with determined resistance. Citizens from across Russia and around the world took to the streets to protest the invasion of Moscow, despite serious personal risk. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives and, as of March 16, more than 2.5 million Ukrainians – mostly women and children – have fled their homes and sought refuge in neighboring countries. In addition to the human cost of the crisis, Europe fears the consequences on energy supply and prices which, since the start of the year, have recorded dizzying increases. Over the past decades, Europe has become too dependent on Russia for its energy resources. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, gets around 55% of its gas from Moscow, as well as 50% of its coal and 30% of its oil. To reduce its dependence on Russia, Germany is implementing drastic changes in its energy policy: the government aims to achieve a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2035.
Russian sanctions against Germany: a break with convention
The international community has stepped up to support Ukraine with military aid and sanctions that could devastate the Russian economy. For the first time in its history, the EU will finance military support to a country under attack, committing 500 million euros. Similarly, Washington has allocated US$350 million in weapons for the defense of Ukraine, totaling more than US$1 billion last year.
We have also witnessed a historic shift in German foreign and defense policy. The European country has lifted its ban on exporting lethal weapons to conflict zones and has accepted a major arms shipment. The Ukraine crisis has deeply alarmed European security analysts, prompting Germany to abandon its reluctant approach to self-armament. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz awarded 100 billion euros to the Bundeswehr – Germany’s armed forces – and pledged to increase annual defensive spending by more than 2% of the national gross domestic product (GDP).
Germany has further strayed from its previously cautious and measured foreign policy approach by backing unprecedented punitive actions against Moscow. After some hesitation, Scholz agreed to block access to the Swift international banking payment system for several Russian banks. Russia will no longer be able to make and receive payments for trade and financial activities, which could lead to economic collapse. More significant was Germany’s decision to halt certification of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The undersea pipeline was designed to transport natural gas from western Siberia to northern Germany and is owned to the Russian energy giant Gazprom. The gas pipeline crossing the Baltic Sea faces fierce opposition governments of Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukraine. The United States also opposed the project, after speaking out about the dangers associated with Europe’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas exports.
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Diversification of energy dependence with renewable energies
Largely dependent on energy imports, Germany is setting up a series of measures diversify its supply. In light of current events, the German government will increase the volume of its natural gas reserves by 2 billion cubic meters (bcm) via long-term options and coordinated EU purchases on the world market. In addition, it plans to build two liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals on the North Sea coast. However, the project is unlikely to meet short-term demands, as it may take between two and five years Must be approved. Besides, concerns remain regarding the environmental impact associated with LNG. Its use could also slow the country’s transition to 100% renewable energy.
Despite innuendo on the contrary, Germany will persist in phasing out coal and nuclear power. The country’s three remaining nuclear power plants will cease operations in December 2022, while coal-fired power generation will end in about a decade. In 2020, Germany adopted the “Coal Phase-Out Act” aiming to gradually reduce and eventually end the use of coal-fired power by 2038 at the latest, potentially as early as 2035.
The invasion of Ukraine revealed the dangers associated with energy dependence on countries with a high geopolitical risk profile and highlighted the crucial role that energy self-sufficiency plays in national security. In response, Germany is planning accelerate the schedule of hisRenewable Energy Lawwhich came into force in January 2021. By law, electricity supply and consumption must become carbon neutral by 2050, and 65% of electricity must come from clean sources by 2030. new law would require the country to produce 80% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2035. Recognizing the need for greater energy independence, the German government has allocated around 200 billion euros for investments in decarbonization. The widespread use of renewable energy sources could allow Germany to meet its energy needs and refrain from depending on energy sources outside its borders.
Europe’s precarious position on energy security has left Germany with limited room for maneuver during this crisis. In the meantime, Berlin is choosing a precautionary approach with Moscow. Despite calls to stop the import of Russian gas and oil – which helps finance Putin’s war against Ukraine – Germany and other European countries have rejected a complete ban. Energy imports represent The Kremlin’s main source of income. However, Scholz’s government feared the repercussions an energy embargo could have on its national economy and on society in general. Russia itself threatens to cut off the natural gas supply to Europe in retaliation for the sanctions.
Much remains to be seen on how this will evolve, but it can be said with certainty that the transition to renewable energy is imperative in the short term. Besides their obvious environmental benefits, renewables also provide a nation’s energy security at a time when not all global suppliers are reliable geopolitical players. Finally, greater autonomy through the development of renewable resources would prevent energy needs from hampering the moral obligations of countries.
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