Danish energy analyst: Baltic independence from Russian gas did not happen overnight

The Baltic countries’ import ban on Russian gas is possible, among other things, thanks to the Lithuanian LNG terminal Klaipėda LNG FSRU. The picture shows the LNG carrier, FSRU Independence, which is designed to be a gas plant. Illustration: AB Klaipėdos Nafta

When the three Baltic countries—Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia—stopped importing Russian gas on 1 April, according to Hans Henrik Lindboe, civil engineer and energy analyst at Ea Energy Analysis, it was a consequence of many years of energy planning to move away from Russian gas.

He himself has lived in the Latvian capital Riga, and much of his work in energy planning in the early 1990s was precisely about eliminating the Baltic dependence on Russian gas.

“In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Wall, insecurity related to the large neighbour to the east permeated the way of thinking about energy in the three Baltic countries. Ever since, they have taken the threat that Russia can use energy as a tool of political power very seriously,” Hans Henrik Lindboe explains.

Plenty of gas for their needs

According to the civil engineer, it can be said that the historical connection to Russia has been more decisive for the Baltic countries’ decoupling from Russian gas than is the case for large gas-consuming countries such as Spain, Italy, and Germany.

But even though their energy systems are built on the basic idea of a security of supply that does not rely on only one source, gas remained a central part of especially Latvian and Lithuanian energy supply after the fall of the Wall.

“When Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were to join the EU, one of the demands of the Union was that Lithuania shut down the Ignalina nuclear power plant because it was exactly the same type of power plant as the one in Chernobyl. It was finally closed 12–13 years ago,” Hans Henrik Lindboe explains.

Accompanying the requirement was that the EU would co-finance a new, fossil power plant that could burn both coal and gas. In addition, one of Europe’s largest gas storage facilities, with a capacity of 3.2 billion cubic meters of gas, is located in Latvia, and therefore gas still remained a central part of the energy system in both Lithuania and Latvia.

According to Hans Henrik Lindboe, Lithuania has a gas consumption reminiscent of the Danish one (which according to the Danish Energy Agency was 2.8 billion cubic meters in 2021).

“Latvia’s gas consumption is even lower, about half that of Lithuania’s, and in Estonia almost no significant amounts of gas are used from an overall European perspective,” he says.

LNG terminals and renewable energy

According to Hans Henrik Lindboe, the total gas consumption of the Baltic countries does not account for more than 1 percent of the EU’s total gas consumption, and that 1 percent is largely covered by imports of liquefied gas, which is drawn ashore using fully functional LNG terminals.

“All EU countries that have a coast have built LNG terminals, except for Germany and the Nordic countries. In the case of the Baltic countries, of course, this was also done to secure the supply of non-Russian gas. In addition, there is also a connection that will be ready for import/export of gas between Lithuania and Poland next year,” Hans Henrik Lindboe says.

Lithuania, which consumes the most gas out of the three countries, imports about half of its gas from Norway via an LNG terminal in Klaipėda port.

“Norway wouldn’t have to increase its supply all that much to cover Lithuania’s gas consumption. It would be a fraction of the LNG that is available on the global market,” Hans Henrik Lindboe says.

In addition, the share of renewable energy on the Baltic energy markets is on par with the Danish one. According to Hans Henrik Lindboe, about half of Lithuania’s electricity consumption is covered by wind energy.

The Baltic energy systems are a case in point

In short, decoupling from Russian gas is possible because:

*The Baltic countries were prepared for precisely the kind of situation that has arisen after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

*Gas consumption is relatively low and does not make up a large part of the LNG market’s supply.

*They have fully functional LNG terminals and large proportions of energy consumption are covered by renewable energy.

“It’s nice of the Lithuanian president to say that because they have become independent of Russian gas, we can do the same in the rest of Europe. But it’s not that simple,” Hans Henrik Lindboe says.

“We can also become independent of Russian gas in Denmark when the Tyra Field becomes operational next year, but it’s a different matter for Germany, Italy, and the other major gas consumers. And for the EU as a whole.”