Europe may be on the verge of divesting from Russian gas exports after Putin invaded Ukraine this week, but Germany's reliance on Russian gas puts the continent in a vulnerable position.
The invasion rattled global markets on Thursday, as did the European energy market. Europe gets 40% of its natural gas supply from Russia. But most of it goes through a pipeline run by a Russian state company that runs directly through Ukraine.
Neither Russia nor Europe has cut gas links yet, but energy prices on the continent have already skyrocketed. Finally, the Ukrainian crisis has highlighted Europe's dependence on Russian imports of fossil fuels.
Europe has options, including expanding nuclear and renewable energy infrastructure. Efforts in recent months by Germany and the Nordic countries to expand the continent's wind capacity could gain momentum, and some officials see the potential move away from Russian gas as an opportunity to move towards energy independence.
"The entire West will turn away from Russia," German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck told The Associated Press after the invasion was announced on Thursday. “We are going to diversify our energy system. We will no longer buy Russian coal and gas in this quantity in the future. »
But even if Europe as a whole is intent on sparking a green energy revolution, the decisions different countries have made on nuclear power mean the continent could take different approaches if Russian gas imports had to be stopped.
Germany's unwinnable situation
Germany's pledge to phase out all coal-fired power plants by 2038 and a decades-old decision to aggressively phase out nuclear power have left the country dependent on Russian gas, which has been piped at low prices to the German shores for decades.
Natural gas accounts for 25% of Germany's total energy consumption, and the country depends on Russia for 55% of its gas supply. A sudden stop to these imports would put the EU's largest economy and most populous country in dire straits.
Before the invasion of Ukraine broke out, Germany had planned to increase its imports of Russian gas through Nord Stream 2, an $11 billion gas pipeline that would run under the Baltic Sea, despite criticism that the project would bring even more energy to the country. according to Russia. But shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz finally abandoned the plan.
Shutting down the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is a first step for Germany to wean itself off Russian gas, but it will likely be decades before the country can claim energy independence.
Germany has set itself the goal of becoming CO2 neutral by 2045. This includes a massive expansion of renewable energy infrastructure, which accounted for 46% of Germany's electricity consumption in 2021, to roughly on par with gas, coal, oil and nuclear combined.
But it will be years before renewable energy can completely replace more traditional energy sources. Meanwhile, Germany will likely have to find a way to do without the cheap Russian gas it has enjoyed for decades.
Where does Germany get its energy from?
Russia has cornered the natural gas market for years, but its dominance may soon end with the emergence of other major suppliers.
Qatar and the United States are also major producers of natural gas. Qatar and the United States mainly produce liquefied natural gas (LNG), a form of natural gas that has been chilled and is easier to ship in bulk but generally more expensive. In January, US LNG exports to Europe exceeded Russian pipeline shipments for the first time.
But these two countries are unlikely to make up for the potential energy deficit of Germany and Europe anytime soon.
The Biden administration has scrambled to find a replacement natural gas supplier for Germany and Europe in recent weeks, but officials aren't optimistic the gap can be easily closed.
“Russia [delivers], I think, 30-40% of deliveries to Europe. No country can replace that kind of volume,” Qatari Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi said at a recent gas conference in Doha. long term and to very clear destinations.