Savings and conversion can free us from Russian gas in a year

Illustration: Ea Energianalyse

In just a few months, Europe will be able to become completely independent of Russian gas. This is evident from a new report from Ea Energy Analyses, spearheaded by Anders Kofoed and Hans Henrik Lindboe. This is much faster than the previous estimate from Ea Energy Analyses, which just a few weeks ago argued that it would take several years. A similar message came from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has so far estimated that a third of Russia’s natural gas in the EU can be phased out in a year and be completely eliminated only in 2030.

“The analysis surprisingly shows that it should be possible for Europe to become independent of Russian gas with a coordinated effort in just one year if all sectors and all countries contribute, and the risk of rationing should be low,” Hans Henrik Lindboe says and explains that the main factor that makes such a quick transition possible is that there is enough power plant capacity in Europe that it is not necessary to use the gas-fired power plants. And it is precisely here that the new analysis differs from the previous analyses carried out by the European Commission, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and others—the capacity of coal and oil-fired power plants is not included.

Half of the gas consumption can be eliminated

Modelling in the new analysis from Ea Energy Analyses shows that up to two-thirds of gas-based electricity production in the Central and Northern European electricity market in a normal weather year can potentially be moved over to power plants fired with coal, oil, and biomass. The calculation assumes that older power plants, which today serve as peaking and reserve plants, which in Denmark, for example, include the Kyndby Power Plant on Zealand, transition to medium or base loads. In addition, the exchange of electricity across all national borders must be smoother. Finally, according to the analysis, it is possible to allow a small number of European gas-fired power plants to switch from gas to oil. Overall, Anders Kofoed and Hans Henrik Lindboe believe that in practice, it is realistic to eliminate half of the gas consumption used for electricity and district heating by switching to coal and oil in particular. This corresponds to a reduction of 72 billion cubic meters.

With regard to the European gas network, Hans Henrik Lindboe assesses that it can be reconfigured to supply all remaining customers from primarily coastal LNG gas terminals in just one year—an assessment which, however, requires further analyses in order to be adequately verified.

In the calculation, however, there is a shortfall of 15 billion m3 of gas, corresponding to 6.5 percent of gas consumption in households, services, and industry after the implementation of significant fuel-related changes. According to the analysis, these remaining 6.5 percent can be made up for with behaviour-related savings, by quickly implementing investments in energy efficiency improvements, so that it is not necessary to ration the gas consumption of companies in the industry. As a last resort, the Netherlands may be able to increase production in the Groningen gas field for a year or two—despite local opposition.

Negative carbon footprint

The vast majority of the effort lies in fuel changes in the electricity sector—here the EU has to live with the fact that in the short run, this will lead to a negative carbon footprint.

In total, Anders Kofoed and Hans Henrik Lindboe find that CO2 emissions in the EU27 + UK should increase by around 60 million tonnes. That covers the fact that some of the gas reduction measures such as energy efficiency and more renewable energy reduce CO2 emissions, while conversions from gas to oil and coal have the opposite effect.

“Fortunately, we can expect that the conversion measures will be phased out over a short time horizon in step with the acceleration of expansion of wind and solar capacity, and by expanding gas supplies from other countries in the subsequent 5-year period. The EU can choose to tighten the climate targets on the road to 2050 to compensate for the extra CO2 emissions as a result of the elimination of Russian gas,” Ea Energy Analyses’s new report reads.

In a previous interview, you said the exact opposite—namely that Europe can write off the possibility of a transition within two years?

“Yes, it’s completely contradictory. And I’m not happy about that. But I just want to say that we have only now carried out an analysis of the electricity market. And we just have to admit that we have reached a completely different conclusion. And we have to acknowledge that it came as a surprise,” he says.