Europe’s gas crisis: a degree less in cooling

Gas savings can already be delivered in the summer by reducing the peak electricity consumption from cooling – easier said than done in 40-degree heat

The Ukraine crisis keeps reinforcing the already clear commitments by European leaders to invest in renewables and other climate-friendly energy solutions. But in the meantime, a gas crisis is looming for the next winter.

Russian energy giant Gazprom said it will once again drastically cut gas supplies to the EU through its main pipeline due to maintenance work, stopping another turbine at the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that would cut daily gas production to 20%, halving the current level of supply. The German government says there is no technical reason to limit gas supply.

What will happen is that it will make it more difficult for EU countries to replenish their stores of gas before winter. The continued reduction in gas supply through Nord Stream 1 is likely to make it more difficult for countries to replenish their stores before winter, when gas usage is much higher. Gazprom has also cut gas supplies altogether to Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Poland, over their refusal to comply with a Kremlin order to pay their bills in roubles, instead of euros or dollars.

The reality is that withholding any crippling energy sanctions on Russia denies Western leaders their key leverage in the ongoing unprovoked aggressino that Vladimir Putin has unleashed in Ukraine, now a candidate country for EU membership.

The EU says it will cut gas imports from Russia by two-thirds within a year – stopping short of a total ban. To help reach its goal, member states are being asked to consider cutting overall gas consumption by 15% over the next seven months, something that might turn into a mandatory emergency measure.

The EU knows that revenues from oil and gas exports provides over 33% of Russia’s government budget, whose economy is still dependency on hydrocarbons. Russia produces 17% of all natural gas and 12% of the world’s oil. It supplies about 40% of European Union countries’ natural gas, some of which flows through pipelines that cross Ukraine.

The key to limiting Putin’s actions in his Ukraine offensive, would therefore be comprehensive energy sanctions. With the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia now in abeyance, the dependence on Russian energy still forces the hand of EU states not to impose sanctions on currently active infrastructure and supplies from Russia.

Russian company Gazprom, whom Frans Timmermans said is no longer master of its decisions, has refused to provide any more than the amounts specified in long-term contracts – this has caused natural gas prices in Europe to increase significantly. Crude oil initially increased to over $100 per barrel after the Russian assault began, a level not reached since 2014. In November 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States imported about 600,000 barrels per day of Russian oil.

Europe appears convinced that they must secure gas supplies that could compensate for Russian exports, should decide to cut off or severely reduce Russia’s energy exports. Aside from the imports from Russia, European countries import some natural gas from the United States. Australia, a U.S. ally and a major natural gas supplier, agreed to increase supplies to Europe, if needed.

But with LNG tied to long-term contracts and destinations that are very clear, it is hard to simply outline a list of countries that can replace the gas that Russia supplies. Algeria is already the EU’s third largest gas provider behind Russia and Norway, supplying approximately 8% of the EU’s gas supplies in 2021 via pipelines across the Mediterranean Sea. Libya could also help ease a shortage with its strong gas production but its political instability is problematic.

Malta may be exempt from the EU’s 15% gas reduction target by dint of the fact that as an island member-state, has no permanent or direct link to European gas networks. But what is clear is that Malta can play its part in terms of achieving climate neutrality and contribute towards the European effort by promoting further gas savings across the board with energy savings education and awareness.

Gas savings can already be delivered in the summer by reducing the peak electricity consumption from cooling – easier said than done in 40-degree heat. Large savings can be achieved by deploying alternative heat sources through heat pumps and smart energy management systems in households, using less warm water or adapting less intensive cooling and heating temperatures, or even mandating reduced heating of public buildings, offices, commercial buildings and open spaces like outdoor terraces. As alwatys, the role of responsible politicians promoting such good practices, remains key.