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Why Europe’s energy security will come from new energy

We must think about clean energy as part of the solution to our energy security needs.

At the onset of war in Ukraine in February 2022, some countries put net zero on the backburner and shifted their energy policies back to hydrocarbons and nuclear. Now, with the war in its fourth month and winter receding, minds are turning to the long term once again.

In this article, we examine the links between energy security and clean energy. In our view, the two are more linked than they might appear and, more importantly, their solutions are connected too.

Energy security has become the priority

In the past few months, energy security has risen rapidly up the governmental agenda, especially in Europe. From Brussels to Berlin, Rome to Riga, there is an urgent drive to cut reliance on imported fossil fuels, especially from Russia.

“Putin’s invasion redefined our energy security considerations in Europe,” said Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency.1

Despite the temptation, reversing the net zero project is not a long-term solution. Firstly, few European countries have the option of increasing domestic fossil fuel production. So, whether they are importing from Russia or anywhere else, there’s still the issue of reliance on external actors, and the vulnerability of such a position in times of stress.

Then there’s the question of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels. New nuclear plants take a long time to come online – at least a decade – and are often delayed. Nuclear does not meet with unanimous support in Europe.

Pro-nuclear France, whose huge fleet of nuclear power stations was created in response to the oil crises of the 1970s, faces off against the other giant of the European Union, Germany, with its long anti-nuclear history and its plan to shutter its three remaining nuclear plants by the end of this year.

There seems to be little political will in Germany to fire up nuclear plants, especially with the Green party part of the new governing coalition.

Facing a lack of domestic fossil fuel reserves, and lack of unanimity on nuclear power as an alternative, policymakers  have been turning towards the ways renewables can help to provide energy security instead.

Re-thinking the future of energy

Russian energy supplies to Europe have been cut dramatically. In the short term, this has led to rising energy prices and given a boost to other energy exporters. The long-term effect, however, will be “a fundamental re-think on energy security which will accelerate decarbonisation.”2

Western Europe’s energy systems rely on imported fossil fuels, but there are several ways to lessen this reliance: by reducing demand using new renewable energy, for example, or by achieving better energy efficiency, or expanding electrification so that fewer cars and lorries are burning fossil fuels.

Each of these choices would reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions, supporting both energy security and net zero.