How Europe Can Achieve Energy Independence From Russia

The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought renewed focus to the fact that European countries are heavily reliant on Russia for their energy needs, importing huge amounts of natural gas from the country.

The European Union buys around 40 percent of its natural gas needs from Russia, along with 27 percent of its oil and 46 percent of its coal, but the bloc has announced intentions to end its dependence on Russia.

On Tuesday, EU officials said the bloc would implement a plan to gain energy independence from Moscow "well before 2030" and cut gas imports from Russia by two-thirds this year.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement: "We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas."

"We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us," she said.

Experts who spoke to Newsweek suggested that Europe could achieve energy independence by focusing on the transition to renewable energy and by adopting policies that emphasized energy sources that can be produced in the EU rather than abroad.

Rapid Growth of Renewables

Robert Kaufmann is a professor in the Earth and Environment Department at Boston University whose research focuses on global climate change, world oil markets and land-use changes. He told Newsweek that Europe should move quickly to develop renewable sources of energy.

"Europe can reduce its dependence on Russia for oil and natural gas by accelerating its efforts to reduce carbon emissions," Kaufmann said.

"Europe uses natural gas to generate electricity and heat homes and can reduce these uses by supporting the rapid growth of solar capacity and wind power. These technologies reduce the need to burn natural gas to generate electricity.

"And the electricity generated by solar and wind can be used to power heat pumps—above and below ground). These technologies can heat buildings more efficiently and at lower cost than burning natural gas," Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann also noted that the electricity generated by solar and wind power can be used to power electric cars.

"This reduces the need for crude oil from Russia," he said.

Made in EU

Philip Walsh, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at Ryerson University in Toronto and principal investigator at the university's Center for Urban Energy, told Newsweek that the EU's strategy of sourcing energy from Russia was mainly motivated by economics.

That strategy was based on the idea that "production, transportation and delivery costs of crude oil and natural gas would be lower because large pipelines could be constructed from major oil and gas fields in Russia to the consuming markets in the EU."

Walsh warned that a focus on renewable energy could come up short.

"The EU has been focusing lately on renewables as an energy independence solution to fossil fuels but their reliability to meet energy demand has either not been developed or has suffered from the intermittent nature of wind and solar," Walsh said.

Walsh said that the move to energy independence had been "exacerbated by the shutting down of coal and nuclear energy plants."

"Energy independence for the EU can only be achieved through a 'made in the EU' policy that would promote only those energy sources that exist within their own borders, but without the use of coal it would likely require higher energy costs to consumers," Walsh added.

A Security Imperative

Dirk Buschle is Iberdrola Manuel Marin chair for European Energy and Climate Policy at the College of Europe in Belgium. He told Newsweek that gaining energy independence from Russia was a matter of security for the EU.

"Europe needs to accelerate its energy transition," Buschle said. "The time for being ambitious only in target-setting is over. We must manage the switch to carbon-free fuels faster, and modernize our economies as we move on."

"The green deal becomes also a security imperative," Buschle went on.

"We considered gas—Russian gas—as a bridge fuel, but this bridge was destroyed with the bombing of Kyiv," he said.

Wind Turbines Seen in the Netherlands
Wind Turbines are seen at the coast line of the Ijsselmeer on June 20, 2021 Near Lelystad, Kingdom of the Netherlands. Wind and other renewables will play a role in the EU's efforts to become energy independent. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images