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Finding Opportunity In The Energy Transformation: The Perspective From The EU

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As European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete is tasked with accelerating the deployment of renewable energy in the region, both in response to climate change and as an industrial policy imperative.

The EU has made progress. Overall, it improved its energy intensity by over 20% between 2005 and 2016, keeping its final energy consumption stable despite economic growth. In 2015, increased use of renewables reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to Italy’s total emissions and saved the EU €16 billion in fossil fuel imports.

At the same time, Commissioner Cañete reminded the audience at the 4th EU Energy Summit that although significant progress has been made, there is still a long way to go, noting that “still coal, gas and oil together accounted for some 72% of our primary energy consumption in 2016, and most of this is imported.”

In February this year, as part of the Remap programme IRENA published Renewable Energy Prospects for the European Union, prepared in co-operation with the European Commission.  The report found that the EU could cost effectively double the renewable share in its energy mix, from 17% in 2015 to 34% in 2030. IRENA reached out to Commissioner Cañete to get his views on Europe’s energy transformation.

IRENA: In the EU Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth, the European Commission states that “sustainability and transition to low-carbon, more efficient and circular economy are key in ensuring long-term competitiveness of the EU economy.” How, in your view, are the energy transformation and sustainability fundamental to the EU economy as a whole?

Commissioner Cañete: The importance of the energy sector for the EU economy cannot be overstated: It employs close to 2.2 million people, spread over 96,000 companies across Europe, representing 2% of total added value. Energy represents on average 6% of annual household expenditure.

The research and innovation development of new technologies and services across the energy supply chain has led to the creation of new businesses throughout Europe, providing jobs and economic growth for Europeans.

At the end of 2016, the European Commission put together the “Clean Energy for all Europeans” package. Through eight new or revised pieces of legislation, including to the Renewable Energy Directive, this is putting in place the most advanced regulatory framework to facilitate the investment that we need in Europe to modernise our economy.

Although there is the challenge of attracting the necessary investment, this transition represents an enormous opportunity for the EU: By mobilizing up to €177 billion of public and private funds per year until 2021, we can grow GDP by up to 1% and create 900,000 new jobs over the next decade.

Public money alone will not be enough to cover investment needs: the financial sector will have to throw its full weight behind the fight against climate change. This is why the European Commission came up with a dedicated EU Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth. We believe that the clean energy transition also provides an excellent opportunity to re-vitalize the financial sector by attracting private capital to energy efficiency projects, renewable energy technologies and supply infrastructure, smart energy system development; and to exploit the large potential of research and innovation in radically changing energy supply and demand patterns.

IRENA: If the EU was to scale-up renewables to 34% by 2030, there would be an estimated net cost savings of US$25 billion per year, notwithstanding saved health and environmental costs.  This is echoed in the EU Action Plan which states that the “investment gap of almost €180 billion to achieve EU climate and energy targets by 2030 must be closed.”  Yet since 2011, new investments in renewable energy in Europe have slowed.  What do you think accounts for this disconnect, and how is the EU working to address it?

Commissioner Cañete: In the EU, generation capacity from renewable resources, mainly wind and solar, has been increasing since 2000. We estimate that by 2030, more than 50% of the electricity we consume will come from renewables.

But indeed, while new installed wind and solar capacity saw a significant increase to 2011, investments in renewables have slowed since 2011, primarily due to the downward revision of national support schemes in EU Member States and missing regulatory incentives in some Member States. An important factor in this context is the falling technology cost of renewables. As IRENA data has shown, the global cost of solar PV has decreased by almost 70% between 2010 and 2017. Renewables are more and more competitive against conventional technologies.

Since 2013, investments in renewables have been stable. In 2017, the EU was the second largest market for renewables in the world. At the same time, deployment has continued to increase due to the falling costs. For example, in 2017 the EU’s solar PV market grew by 6% and wind turbine market grew by 25%.

The EU is very keen to show leadership in fulfilling our Paris Agreement commitments. Transforming the energy sector is key in this context. Under the Clean Energy for all Europeans package, investments will allow the EU to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and ultimately be carbon neutral by 2050, while contributing to economic growth and jobs in Europe.

By setting the right targets and measures for the use of renewables, we believe we can get all EU countries moving together in the right direction and create economies of scale literally at continental level. While Member States are willing to support a renewables target of at least 27% by 2030, I’m pleased to note that the European Parliament is pressing for an even bolder approach that coincides with the IRENA REmap findings.

The 27% target and proposed measures should provide the necessary security to encourage investment, and the clearer legal framework provided by the revised directive will remove uncertainties for investors, reduce administrative burdens and decrease costs. Our focus is on the potential for renewables in electricity, heating and cooling and transport sectors. This will enable Europe to reinforce its industrial competitiveness and to remain a global leader in renewables.

We are confident that with this package in place, investments will continue to grow, as the EU is indeed looking for investments in the range of €180 billion per year to achieve its objectives for 2030. This number constitutes investments in all sectors, as well as in energy efficiency, renewables, and infrastructure. For the power sector alone, the investment needs are around €75 billion per year of which 33% is needed for renewables and 47% for the power grid.

IRENA: What are some of the promising options that you see to scale-up the share of renewables in heating and cooling in the EU, and what are some of the measures that the EU is adopting to support e-mobility?

Commissioner Cañete: In Europe, the share of modern renewables in the heating and cooling sector is 19.1%, largely from biomass. This is significantly higher than any other large economy in the world. Thanks to the uses of bioenergy, 5 EU Member States have shares of 40% or higher of renewables, which makes them global leaders in this area. However, in most of EU Member States there is a significant untapped potential for renewables in this sector.

The European Commission recognises that renewables in the heating and cooling sector are some of the most cost-effective solutions to further increase renewables and has proposed to increase the share of renewables in the heating and cooling sector by 1% per year over the period from 2021 to 2030.

The European Commission’s assessments, like those of the IRENA study, suggest that increasing the share of renewables in the heating and cooling sector will also increase the diversity of renewable energy options, including heat pumps, solar thermal and geothermal options. District heating and cooling systems can particularly help the cost-effective and efficient integration of renewables in urban areas.

Today, transport accounts for roughly a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emission, with road transport alone responsible for 22%, and growing.

The European Commission’s strategy for low-emission mobility reaffirms the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport by at least 60% on 1990 level by 2050.  Following the principal of technology neutrality in this area, our policy aims at increasing the deployment of zero- and low-emission vehicles overall.

Mainstreaming renewables in the power sector will require high levels of deployment of renewable capacity to replace and repower existing assets, and related infrastructure in order to overcome one of the major bottlenecks in the electric vehicle market. Assuming a rapid market uptake of electric vehicles, by 2020 up to 440 000 public accessible recharging points would be needed in the EU. This could cost up to €3.9 billion, supported finically via the EU’s infrastructure programmes.

The European Commission has therefore put forward an Action Plan aiming to boost investment in alternative fuel infrastructure and develop a network of fast and interoperable recharging and fuelling stations across the EU. We also proposed to include charging infrastructure in the EU’s building stock during construction and renovation works. New provisions for example require the installation of recharging points and ducting infrastructure in our buildings’ car parks.  Technical solutions and a pricing scheme that attracts consumers are also required to promote smart charging.

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A Hydrogen Strategy for a climate neutral Europe

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Hydrogen can be used as a feedstock, a fuel or an energy carrier and storage, and has many possible applications across industry, transport, power and buildings sectors. Most importantly, it does not emit CO2 and does not pollute the air when used. It is therefore an important part of the solution to meet the 2050 climate neutrality goal of the European Green Deal.

It can help to decarbonise industrial processes and economic sectors where reducing carbon emissions is both urgent and hard to achieve. Today, the amount of hydrogen used in the EU remains limited, and it is largely produced from fossil fuels. The aim of the strategy is to decarbonise hydrogen production – made possible by the rapid decline in the cost of renewable energy and acceleration of technology developments – and to expand its use in sectors where it can replace fossil fuels.

How is hydrogen produced and what is its impact on the climate?

Hydrogen may be produced through a variety of processes. These production pathways are associated with a wide range of emissions, depending on the technology and energy source used and have different costs implications and material requirements. In this Communication:

  • ‘Electricity-based hydrogen’ refers to hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water (in an electrolyser, powered by electricity), regardless of the electricity source. The full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of the production of electricity-based hydrogen depends on how the electricity is produced.
  • ‘Renewable hydrogen’ is hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water (in an electrolyser, powered by electricity), and with the electricity stemming from renewable sources. The full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of the production of renewable hydrogen are close to zero[1]. Renewable hydrogen may also be produced through the reforming of biogas (instead of natural gas) or biochemical conversion of biomass, if in compliance with sustainability requirements.
  • Clean hydrogen refers to renewable hydrogen
  • ‘Fossil-based hydrogen’ refers to hydrogen produced through a variety of processes using fossil fuels as feedstock, mainly the reforming of natural gas or the gasification of coal. This represents the bulk of hydrogen produced today. The life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of the production of fossil-based hydrogen are high.
  • ‘Fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture’ is a subpart of fossil-based hydrogen, but where greenhouse gases emitted as part of the hydrogen production process are captured. The greenhouse gas emissions of the production of fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture or pyrolysis are lower than for fossil-fuel based hydrogen, but the variable effectiveness of greenhouse gas capture (maximum 90%) needs to be taken into account.
  • ‘Low-carbon hydrogen’ encompasses fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture and electricity-based hydrogen, with significantly reduced full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to existing hydrogen production.
  • Hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels refer to a variety of gaseous and liquid fuels on the basis of hydrogen and carbon. For synthetic fuels to be considered renewable, the hydrogen part of the syngas should be renewable. Synthetic fuels include for instance synthetic kerosene in aviation, synthetic diesel for cars, and various molecules used in the production of chemicals and fertilisers. Synthetic fuels can be associated with very different levels of greenhouse gas emissions depending on the feedstock and process used. In terms of air pollution, burning synthetic fuels produces similar levels of air pollutant emissions than fossil fuels.

What kind of hydrogen will the strategy support?

Renewable hydrogen is the focus of the strategy, as it has the biggest decarbonisation potential and is therefore the most compatible option with the EU’s climate neutrality goal.

The strategy also recognises the role of other low-carbon hydrogen production processes in a transition phase, for example through the use of carbon capture and storage or other forms of low-carbon electricity, to clean existing hydrogen production, reduce emissions in the short term and scale up the market.

The differentiation between types of hydrogen will allow to tailor supportive policy frameworks in function of the carbon emissions reduction benefits of hydrogen based on benchmarks and certification.

How quickly can we roll out this promising technology?

The strategy foresees a gradual trajectory, with three phases of development of the clean hydrogen economy, at different speed across different industry sectors:

  • In In the first phase (2020-24) the objective is to decarbonise existing hydrogen production for current uses such as the chemical sector, and promote it for new applications. This phase relies on the installation of at least 6 Gigawatt of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU by 2024 and aims at producing up to one million tonne of renewable hydrogen. In comparison to the current situation, approximately 1 Gigawatt of electrolysers are installed in the EU today.
  • In the second phase (2024-30) hydrogen needs to become an intrinsic part of an integrated energy system with a strategic objective to install at least 40 Gigawatt of renewable hydrogen electrolysers by 2030 and the production of up to ten million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU. Hydrogen use will gradually be expanded to new sectors including steel-making, trucks, rail and some maritime transport applications. It will still mainly be produced close to the user or close the renewable energy sources, in local ecosystems.
  • In a third phase, from 2030 onwards and towards 2050, renewable hydrogen technologies should reach maturity and be deployed at large scale to reach all hard-to-decarbonise sectors where other alternatives might not be feasible or have higher costs.

How does hydrogen support the European Green Deal?

Alongside renewable electrification and a more efficient and circular use of resources – as set out in the Energy Sector Integration Strategy – large-scale deployment of clean hydrogen at a fast pace is key for the EU to achieve its high climate ambitions. It is the missing part in the puzzle to a fully decarbonised economy.

Hydrogen can support the transition towards an energy system relying on renewable energy by balancing variable renewable energy. It offers a solution to decarbonise heavily-emitting industry sectors relying on fossil fuels, where conversion to electricity is not an option. And it emits no CO2 and almost no air pollution.

How can hydrogen support the recovery, growth and jobs?

Investment in hydrogen will be a growth engine which will be critical in the context of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. The Commission’s recovery plan highlights the need to unlock investment in key clean technologies and value chains, to foster sustainable growth and jobs. It stresses clean hydrogen as one of the essential areas to address in the context of the energy transition, and mentions a number of possible avenues to support it. 

Moreover, Europe is highly competitive in clean hydrogen technologies manufacturing and is well positioned to benefit from a global development of clean hydrogen as an energy carrier. Cumulative investments in renewable hydrogen in Europe could be up to €180-470 billion by 2050, and in the range of €3-18 billion for low-carbon fossil-based hydrogen. Combined with EU’s leadership in renewables technologies, the emergence of a hydrogen value chain serving a multitude of industrial sectors and other end uses could employ up to 1 million people, directly and indirectly. Analysts estimate that clean hydrogen could meet 24% of world energy demand by 2050, with annual sales in the range of €630 billion.

Is renewable hydrogen cost-competitive?

Today, neither renewable hydrogen nor fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture are cost-competitive against fossil-based hydrogen. Current estimated costs for fossil-based hydrogen are around 1.5 €/kg for the EU, highly dependent on natural gas prices, and disregarding the cost of CO2. Estimated costs for fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture and storage are around 2 €/kg, and renewable hydrogen 2.5-5.5 €/kg.

That said, costs for renewable hydrogen are going down quickly. Electrolyser costs have already been reduced by 60% in the last ten years, and are expected to halve in 2030 compared to today with economies of scale. In regions where renewable electricity is cheap, electrolysers are expected to be able to compete with fossil-based hydrogen in 2030. These elements will be key drivers of the progressive development of hydrogen across the EU economy. 

How will the strategy support investments in the hydrogen economy?

The strategy outlines a comprehensive investment agenda, including investments for electrolysers, but also for the renewable power production capacity required to produce the clean hydrogen, transport and storage, retrofitting of existing gas infrastructure, and carbon capture and storage.

To support these investments and the emergence of a whole hydrogen eco-system, the Commission launches the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance – as announced in the Commission’s New Industrial Strategy. The Alliance will play a crucial role in delivering on this Strategy and supporting investments to scale up production and demand. It will bring together the industry, national, regional and local public authorities and the civil society. Through interlinked, sector-based CEO round tables and a policy-makers’ platform, the Alliance will provide a broad forum to coordinate investment by all stakeholders and engage civil society. The key deliverable of the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance will be to identify and build up a clear pipeline of viable investment projects.

What EU financial instruments can be used for investing in hydrogen?

The Commission will also follow up on the recommendations identified in a report by the Strategic Forum for Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) to promote well-coordinated or joint investments and actions across several Member States aimed at supporting a hydrogen supply chain.

Additionally, as part of the new recovery instrument Next Generation EU, the InvestEU programme will see its capacities more than doubled. It will support the deployment of hydrogen by incentivising private investment, with a strong leverage effect.

A number of Member States have identified renewable and low-carbon hydrogen as a strategic element of their National Energy and Climate Plans. These plans will have to be taken into account when designing the national recovery and resilience plans in the context of new Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Furthermore, the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund, which will benefit from a top-up in the context of the new initiative REACT-EU, will continue to be available to support the green transition. The possibilities offered to carbon intensive regions under the Just Transition Mechanism should also be fully explored.

Synergies between the Connecting Europe Facility for Energy and the Connecting Europe Facility for Transport will be harnessed to fund dedicated infrastructure for hydrogen, repurposing of gas networks, carbon capture projects, and hydrogen refuelling stations.

In addition, the EU ETS ETS Innovation Fund, which will pool together around €10 billion to support low-carbon technologies over the period 2020-2030, has the potential to facilitate first-of-a-kind demonstration of innovative hydrogen-based technologies. A first call for proposals under the Fund was launched on 3 July 2020.

The Commission will also provide targeted support to build the necessary capacity for preparation of financially sound and viable hydrogen projects, where this is identified as a priority in the relevant national and regional programmes, through dedicated instruments (e.g. InnovFin Energy Demonstration Projects, InvestEU) possibly in combination with advisory and technical assistance from the Cohesion Policy, from the European Investment Bank Advisory Hubs or under Horizon Europe.

Can the EU be a global leader in clean hydrogen technologies?

The international dimension is an integral part of the EU approach. Clean hydrogen offers new opportunities for re-designing Europe’s energy partnerships with both neighbouring countries and regions and its international, regional and bilateral partners, advancing supply diversification and helping design stable and secure supply chains.

The EU has supported research and innovation on hydrogen for many years, giving it a head start on the development of technologies and high profile projects, and establishing EU leadership for technologies such as electrolysers, hydrogen refuelling stations and large fuel cells. The strategy aims to consolidate EU leadership by ensuring a full supply chain that serves the European economy, but also by developing its international hydrogen agenda.

This includes in particular working closely with partners in the Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood. In this context, the EU should actively promote new opportunities for cooperation on clean hydrogen with neighbouring countries and regions, as a way to contribute to their clean energy transition and foster sustainable growth and development.

The interest in clean hydrogen is growing globally with several other countries developing dedicated research programmes and an international hydrogen market is likely to develop. The EU will globally promote sound common standards and methodologies to ensure that a global hydrogen market contributes to sustainability and achievement of climate goals.

What uses does the Commission foresee for hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a key solution to cut greenhouse gas emissions in sectors that are hard to decarbonise and where electrification is difficult or impossible. This is the case of industrial sectors such as steel production, or heavy-duty transport for example. As a carbon-free energy carrier, hydrogen would also allow for transport of renewable energy over long distances and for storage of large energy volumes.

An immediate application in industry is to reduce and replace the use of carbon-intensive hydrogen in refineries, the production of ammonia, and for new forms of methanol production, or to partially replace fossil fuels in steel making. Hydrogen holds the potential to form the basis for zero-carbon steel making processes in the EU, envisioned under the Commission’s New Industrial Strategy.

In transport, hydrogen is also a promising option where electrification is more difficult. For example in local city buses, commercial fleets or specific parts of the rail network. Heavy-duty vehicles including coaches, special purpose vehicles, and long-haul road freight could also be decarbonised by using hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen fuel-cell trains could be extended and hydrogen could be used as a fuel for maritime transport on inland waterways and short-sea shipping.  

In the long term, hydrogen can also become an option to decarbonise the aviation and maritime sector, through the production of liquid synthetic kerosene or other synthetic fuels.

Is hydrogen safe?

Hydrogen is a highly flammable gas and care must be taken that hydrogen is produced, stored, transported and utilised in a safe manner. Standards are already in place, and the European industry has built up significant experience with already more than 1500 km of dedicated hydrogen pipelines in place.

With hydrogen consumption expanding to other markets and end-use applications, the strategy points out that the need for safety standards from production, transport and storage to use is critical, include a system to monitor and verify.

What does the strategy foresee in terms of infrastructure development?

Appropriate infrastructure is a condition for the EU-wide development of hydrogen, but the specific infrastructure needs will depend on the patterns of development both in terms of production and use.

Hydrogen demand will largely be met by localised production in an initial phase, for example in industrial clusters or for hydrogen production for refuelling stations. However, local networks and more extensive transport options will be required for further development. Different options will have to be considered, including the repurposing of existing gas infrastructure.

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Covid-19 Impact on Africa’s Energy Sectors: Challenges and Opportunities

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African ministers representing around two-thirds of the continent’s energy consumption, 60% of GDP and nearly half of its population met with global energy leaders via videoconference on 30 June 2020. As Africa’s energy sector faces the dual impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic recession, participants agreed that sound government policies and enhanced investment are more important and necessary than ever to enhance the continent’s economic transformation; ensure sufficient, affordable, reliable energy for all citizens; and drive inclusive, just and sustainable, energy transitions.

2020 started as a year of optimism across Africa’s energy sector. But continued energy progress is now uncertain, as Africa – like the rest of the world – faces the wide-ranging impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. The International Monetary Fund expects sub-Saharan Africa to enter into recession for the first time in 25 years as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with growth falling to -3.2% in 2020 from 3.1% in 2019. Many African economies also have limited fiscal capacity and are heavily indebted, undermining their ability to absorb these economic shocks. The energy sector has not been spared.

Electricity – Participants welcomed the good progress made in many African countries in recent years, including accelerating growth in renewable energy and increasing access to electricity, but expressed concern that the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic shocks are testing the resilience of the energy sector in countries across Africa. The Covid-19 crisis has severely impacted progress on energy access and lockdown measures have put off-grid developments at risk and weakened the financial health of decentralized service providers. Confinement policies and the consequent drop in energy demand in some countries is increasing pressure on power systems, calling into further question the financial health of state-owned utilities that were already under financial stress.

Oil and Gas – Participants also noted that the disruption to global oil and gas markets has delivered a sudden and sharp drop in export revenue, increasing fiscal pressures on key producer economies across the continent. As a result, new investments may face delay or cancellation in the post Covid-19 global and energy sector financial environment. Continued uncertainty could create new risks, compounding security and sustainability challenges in the longer term. At the same time, lower oil prices could make access to clean fuels and modern cooking ones more affordable, as liquid petroleum gas prices (LPG) are 40% lower that 2019, but also considerably more volatile. Expansion of LPG services could create new jobs in manufacturing, transport, bottling, distribution as well as retail. Also, the importance of securing the African energy supply through modern and larger storage capacities over the continent was noted.

Sustainable, Inclusive Transitions – Participants also underscored the importance of supporting Africa’s energy transitions. This includes strengthening the enabling environment for investment, both in infrastructure and all relevant technologies, and continuing to prioritise attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals while ensuring just and inclusive outcomes. The importance of strengthening and developing local capacity and capabilities, especially through training, was also largely emphasized by many Ministers. Finally, participants welcomed the IEA sustainable recovery plan to help guide governments – including in Africa — through and beyond the crisis.   

Key conclusions – Participants stressed the following top recommendations going forward:

  • An efficient secure, affordable and sustainable power sector is vital to Africa’s economic recovery and transformation, and its ability to enhance resiliency to other challenges over time. 
  • Enhancing investments in new grids, (national and mini-grids) and in the off-grid sector as well as in generation facilities are essential to ensure a resilient and reliable power sector that can drive economic recovery.
  • Setting bold energy sector priorities and plans today can enable much-needed investments to stimulate broader economic growth tomorrow, including creating employment opportunities, supporting new skill development, unleashing the creativity of African entrepreneurs across the African continent and creating wealth.
  • Africa’s oil and gas exporters, who have been severely impacted by the crisis, can seize the opportunity to re-evaluate their strategies to generate the most value and jobs across their economies and to promote broader economic diversification.
  • To secure energy supplies and development in many Africa countries, increase oil storage capacities and product stocks; upgrade refineries to produce higher quality products that are less polluting; and build local capacity and skills through training.
  • Low oil prices, in particular liquid petroleum gas (LPG), could open the door to advance clean cooking access; LPG services could also create jobs.
  • Maintaining focus on universal access to electricity and modern cooking is essential, especially in Africa; African governments and other partners should continue to work together to ensure progress toward SDG7.
  • Enhanced regional and international cooperation can play an important role in helping to build robust, affordable, sustainable and resilient energy systems across the continent.

The outcomes of this ministerial roundtable will be shared with key global decision-makers, governments, international financial institution, business leaders including for the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on 9 July 2020 and AUC-IEA Ministerial Forum in South Africa in November 2020. The outcomes will also help guide and inform the IEA’s increasing efforts in Africa, including helping to inform key decision-makers from governments, companies, investors and organizations. 

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From Russia with Gas: Dynamics of Nord Stream 2

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Nord Stream 2 is one of the latest gas pipeline projects of Russia, which seeks to export gas to Europe through the Baltic Sea. After the successful experience from Nord Stream, European companies agreed to build the second version with the Russian partner Gazprom in 2017. Since then, the pipeline has been in limelight because of US threat of sanctions as they fear Russian involvement will endanger European security. However, the European Union (EU) members who are participating in the pipeline project have differed from the American view and have already initiated the construction process. The dynamics of the Nord Stream 2 is very much relevant to the contemporary European geopolitical affairs, and hence a rational analysis is the need of the hour.

Energy concerns in Europe

The EU has called for its members to expand the diversity of their gas supply options and liberalize the energy market, so as to avoid monopoly and sole dependency on a single player, for example the US which has significantly increased their gas sales in Europe since the last decade. According to the ‘Quarterly Report on European Gas Markets’, the American share of gas exports has increased with 9% in the last quarter of 2019, while Norway dropped with 8%. It is widely anticipated that Norway will export less gas in the next 20 years, therefore EU members and especially Germany have been looking for other natural gas suppliers to the fulfill the 30% domestic shortage.

Pivot to Russia

The United States is one of the major gas exporters to Europe, but its expensive Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) can fill only 7-8% of the total energy shortage. For that reason, European countries started diversifying their partners, and to their rescue came Russia which has some of the world’s largest oil and gas fields. Gazprom, one of the largest state-owned energy companies of Russia is now regarded as the largest natural gas exporter to the European Market. In 2018, Gazprom’s gas exports to Europe recorded the highest growth at 201.9 billion cubic meters.

According to the fact sheet on Nord Stream 2, from the perspective of the EU there are numerous benefits which can be achieved from the pipeline project. The project has already provided a lot of jobs to the European community and has also involved local shipping companies like the Blue Water Shipping, a Danish logistics company which has obtained a contract of 40 million euros to transport the pipes for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

American Sanctions and European reactions

The US administration had appealed to Germany to back out from all dealings with the major shareholder Gazprom, as they were seeking to impose sanctions on their activities. However, Germany rejected the idea of sanctions and even called out for a joint European defence against draconian American measures, and accused the Washington for interfering in the internal affairs of European countries, since the sanctions also threatened the European companies involved in the pipeline. Niels Annen, the German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, had made some remarks relating to the U.S. sanctions: “If we want to maintain strong unity of purpose in dealing with Russia, extraterritorial and unintended consequences of US sanctions on European companies must be avoided”.

Nevertheless, Washington still argues that imposing sanctions is a justified measure toward “protecting Ukrainian interests”, since it is alleged that the Nord Stream 2 would replace the dependency on Ukrainian gas exports. However, the reality of sanctions is something different. First, the legislation made by the United States Congress Committee has not been proceeded yet, and while the pipeline is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, therefore it is the European companies which will face the wrath of the sanctions, without actually stopping the construction process of the pipeline.

Another major argument which the Washington has used to justify the sanctions is a peculiar concern that Moscow may take advantage of energy-dependent Germany, and can use gas exports as a “raw material blackmail”, by giving threats of limiting the exports if Berlin doesn’t agree with the political positions of the Kremlin. However, this is actually a win-win situation both for Russia and Germany, where Germany will be able to satisfy the growing domestic demands of energy and for Russia the income from the gas will help in soothing its fluctuating economy.

The Danish factor

To begin the construction phase of the Nord Stream 2 without any legal hurdles, a request to all Baltic and Nordic countries was sent in April 2017. At the outset, Denmark hesitated to allow because of some internal political concerns, however it later approved when another request was sent for an alternative route, but a more expensive one, which would be built south of the Bornholm Island. Finally in 2019, the Danish Energy Agency granted Nord Stream 2 a construction permit for the South-Eastern Route, which would stretch 147 kilometres in the Danish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

According to Hans Mouritzen, Senior Researcher at Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), it was highly recommended to approve of the pipeline going through Danish waters, south of the island, Bornholm. A pipeline drawn north of Bornholm would delay the project with 3 to 4 months and the extra expenses would be around $114 million, a bill that would be for European consumers to pay, had Denmark not agreed to the request.

Future Possibilities

The future scenario of Nord Stream 2 can go one in two ways from a European point of view. First, by being a part of NATO, European countries will be compelled to act in accordance with the multilateral agreements and thereby granting the US their global sovereignty, where they will be able to control and manipulate the economic cooperation between Europe and Russia, and Washington will not miss any opportunity to jeopardize the operations of Nord Stream 2. With the possibility of increased cooperation towards the US and decreased cooperation with Russia, the European countries will have more to lose in the long run.

In the second scenario, Europe cooperating more closely with Russia will bring additional trade opportunities in numerous areas, where Nord Stream 2 is just the beginning. Bringing economic stability to Russia will benefit in thwarting unilateral hegemonic interests of a single country in the world order. Pending that the US keeps Ukraine as a hostage of justice by sanctioning Russia, it vehemently prevents Europe and Russia to develop closer ties. While it is difficult to even imagine the US withdrawing sanctions from Russia, nevertheless it is possible to imagine that European countries will not abide by the external pressures. A better trading balance between Russia and the US in contemporary times will heal the historical wounds of Europe.

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