energyIn 2009, almost 80% of EU natural gas imports came from just three countries (Russia, Norway and Algeria). Similarly, almost 60% of EU crude oil imports in 2009 were from almost the same three countries (Russia, Norway and Libya), whilst almost 80% of hard coal imports came from just four countries (Russia, Colombia, South Africa and the United States). As long as Europe remains dependent on energy imports from a limited number of suppliers, energy security will be a massive concern. To make matters worse, EU dependence on foreign energy imports has been steadily edging upwards over the years, from less than 40% of gross energy consumption in the 1980s to 45.1% in 1999 and, more recently, to 53.9% in 2009.

Recently, we had the chance to speak to Fiona Hall, a British MEP with the Liberal Democrat party and a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy in the European Parliament. We asked her about Europe’s energy policy and put some of your comments and questions to her. We started by asking her whether renewable energy might be a possible way of achieving greater energy security.

Last year, we asked you whether you thought Europe could ever be 100% powered by renewables (and most of the responses were fairly optimistic). Indeed, some European governments are already fully convinced this goal can be realistically achieved, and we heard from the Danish Environment Minister that her country intends to be 100% renewable by the year 2050. However, there were also one or two more sceptical voices among our commenters.

We’ve already looked at the question of rare resources being used in the production of (for example) solar panels, but we had another comment come in from Samo, who said he had read that “the entire production of some chemical elements, used in making solar panels, [would be] consumed just by the EU if we decided to go for solar energy.” Whether or not Samo is right about solar panels, doesn’t his comment highlight the fact that the EU will always be dependent on foreign imports, whether they are raw materials or fossil fuels?

I think it is entirely possible to move to 100% renewables, and I welcome the ambition of Denmark to do this. The first thing we need to do is to prioritise energy efficiency. Clearly, if the amount of electricity you consume is a lot bigger than it needs to be, you’re setting yourself a much bigger task. It also becomes cheaper, because you’re not putting in place infrastructure you don’t really need. Energy efficiency, therefore, has to come first.

On the issue of the scarcity of raw materials, what we need is a different attitude to the sourcing of raw materials. Too often, we’ve had a colonialist attitude of going out and digging it out of the other side of the world. Part of the solution is making sure these very precious minerals and metals used in modern electronics and equipment are being recovered, not just thrown into a landfill as scrap.

That’s interesting, because Duchessa made a point about energy security and its impact on EU foreign policy. She argued that “Russia is a big supplier of energy, natural gas and many other raw materials” and that Europe should therefore pursue a much stricter policy of non-interference in Russian domestic politics (which means putting aside long-standing concerns over civil liberties and other issues related to Russia’s democratic process). How would you respond to Duchessa’s point?

The fact that so many of the countries that we, in Europe, source our oil and natural gas from are politically repressive or unstable is not just worrying from a geopolitical point of view, it’s also worrying economically. As the political situation deteriorates, the price of fossil fuels increases. Today, if you look at the eurozone countries that have had the most economic difficulties – the so-called PIIGS  - these are also the countries most dependent on fossil fuels, and they’ve seen a massive rise in the bill for those, which is certainly a factor in the economic difficulties they’ve been experiencing. Our economies are under strain, and if we go down the renewables road then that’s an energy supply that is under our control. Quite apart from climate change, then, there are very strong reasons for promoting renewable energy.

Finally, we had a comment from Mike on nuclear energy as a possible alternative: “Nuclear is much safer and healthier than fossil fuels, especially when the plant facilty is engineered correctly.”

Nuclear might be low-carbon compared to fossil fuels, but it also comes with a raft of problems. Part of it is the cost: we’ve always heard it will get cheaper, but it never has. Even the cheapest nuclear power plants are massively over-budget and over their original construction schedules. The industry at the moment is trying to get subsidies from the government, because it knows the figures don’t add up. We should be putting that public money into new technologies.

In the UK, over half the budget of the Department of Energy and Climate Change is being spent on decommissioning nuclear power plants. So, I’m not even talking about the safety aspect. When it does go wrong, the consequences are very widespread and damaging. For all those reasons, we should be putting our investment in renewables instead. Nuclear is a distraction.

What do YOU think? Could greater investment in renewables be a way to guarantee energy security for Europe? Or should EU foreign policy concentrate on building stronger ties with countries rich in oil and gas, even if it means ignoring uncomfortable issues related to civil liberties or democracy? Could nuclear power help make the EU self-sufficient, or is it a distraction? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.


20 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Panos Mentesidis

    the answer is no!! Europe must become independent from oil and gas as soon as possible. Greece and Cyprus might be able to supply Europe with oil and gas to help with the transition if the amounts of oil and gas in the east med are enough and if the EU helps Greece and Cyprus to secure their oil reserves from possible Turkish aggression, but I don’t see that happening. If Germany gets deal on our oil and gas that doesn’t favor us (it is bought for pennies cos of the debt that corrupt governments have created with of course the help of massive German companies i.e. Siemens-HDW and many more) then I believe the possible oil and gas from the East Med that belongs to Greece would be best if its sold to the USA and China or India.

  2. Nikolai Holmov

    There are several issues here. The first is easily addressed with regards to atomic energy. In the short and medium term it has to remain part of the energy mix as quite simply a 100% move to renewables to service the entire energy needs of Europe is a long way off.

    The second issue is one of European self-sufficiency which is naturally a good thing in times of international strife.

    However, there is something to be said in leaving room for energy imports from non-EU nations as purchasing power is a lever (if effectively used) with the supplier. Especially so for the EU which has no teeth on the international stage other than soft power which includes economic power.

    To remove all need for energy imports but still allow them would be a Utopian position for an entity that relied solely on soft power for regional and global influence.

    A more important question is whether the EU internal politics will come together to allow such a thing to happen with NordStream, South Stream, a baby Naboccu all in existence or about to happen.

    Such agreements obviously fly in the face of an internal energy sufficient EU regardless of what MEPs may say or dream about.

    It seems the EU mouth says one thing but the EU hands are making energy deals that are completely opposite.

    No real surprises there though.

  3. Christos Mouzeviris

    European states chicken when it comes to demands from multinationals and big corporations. Or they serve their own little interests instead of promoting the greater good.. Greece and Cyprus could of course offer solution to Europe’s problems, but:
    a) Europe does not speak with one voice and instead of supporting Greece and Cyprus against any Turkish meddling they actually side with them in some cases prolonging the inability of those two countries to exploit their natural reserves and help Europe. That of course is done on purpose and not just because they side with Turkey, but because they want to put a hand in Greece’s resources while paying nothing. Just like they are doing for centuries now in Africa. So instead of allowing Greece to exploit its resources and getting another region with oil they are trying to drive the country bankrupt in order to get this gas and oil for free.

    And not just the oil and gas, but Greece’s sun and wind too.. Instead of allowing Greece to built the components needed for exploiting those two resources of green energy, they want them to built the components and Greece just offer them for nothing. We need the jobs ladies and gentlemen, we need to start exporting and become a bit more competitive. So if you want to have everything for yourselves, then please do not complain if you have to keep bailing out Greece, Cyprus and other countries..It is your fault!!

    b) Instead of creating a pan European defense system, and support Greece in case of any aggression from outside the EU borders, EU states again prefer to play by their own rules and force Greece (and other bordering EU states) to find solutions on their own. So instead of investing where we should we are actually wasting money (with the help of some very willing corrupt politicians of ours that receive money from European and American companies to do exactly that) on defense..

    With those attitudes and policies, why Europe is crying for having to rely on others for its energy supply? You get what you deserve, you reap what you sow.. Only if we start thinking collectively, as Europeans we will be able to solve problems, allow, encourage and help nation states to exploit any natural resources they have for the betterment of their people first, and the common good and progress in Europe as a whole.. Instead of that, we have rich elites in rich countries trying to exploit smaller, poorer EU nations..And that is the only reason why they are interested in EU expansion. New EU states, equals with new territory to exploit.. Change must first come in the rich countries, on a civilian level..Change attitudes, change perceptions, demand change and in the end………achieve it!!!

  4. Ozcan

    We need resources but they need it to, some have gas some have oil, others have raw materials, agriculture etc,..but all are widely dispersed over the globe. We should embargo and destroy everyone ignoring our rights for resources. To achieve stability in energy supply we must increace our defence budget drastically.

  5. Eusebio Manuel Vestias Pecurto

    Eu também estou de acordo a resposta é não a Europa tem que tormar-se a ser indepedende e apostar nas energias alternativas Quem manda na nossa casa são os Europeus e não os outros paises que tem o petróleo e o gás

    • Elisa

      Yes. Here’s how the cycle works:Plans use photo synthesis to abrosb solar energy through their leaves (I’ll skip the chemistry involved). That energy is then used for a variety of organic processes. The key one is that plants use the energy to break down carbon dioxide they take in from the atmosphere. They then combine the carbon obtained with hydrogen and other materials they get from the soiil they grow in to build compounds that make up the structure of the plant most importantly for what you are talking about the wod that makes up tree trunks, stems, branchees,e tc. When wood is burned, ithe carbon is recombined with oxygen from the air . This releases the energy that the plant originally put into seperating out the carbon in the first place producing heat, light and recreating the CO2 the plant originally removed from the atmosphere.The same fundamental process is at the base of burning any organic compound including oil or coal which, millions of years ago, started as prehistoric plants.

  6. Dr.Larch Maxey

    Yes Europe can be 100% self-sufficient for energy and this needs to start with massive reduction in the amount we consume, through taxation if fossil fuels (and extra support for those at risk of energy poverty), investment in energy efficiency and renewables (RE), in that order. All new development, including RE can be cradle to cradle, so that all materials can be recovered at the end of its life. We should avoid over-dependence on PV due to the chemicals and metals invovled and also invest in tidal lagoons, wave, wind, geothermal, biomass CHP, etc. Climate change is the key factor above energy security and should be prioritised as part of an overall truly sustainable appraisal and on-going monitoring of all new developments and policies.

  7. Dr. Breffní Lennon

    I agree with Dr. Maxey. The cradle to cradle concept needs to be mainstreamed as soon as possible. Too much of our electronic waste (for example) is treated as just that, waste, and dumped in developing countries under the pretence of being recycled; where it ends up poisoning local populations.
    Fiona Hall’s contention that improving energy efficiency is an essential component to answering the question of energy security is definitely another key point to all this. We need to move away from the over-simplistic “supply and demand” model of planning and start thinking outside the box. We should be asking are there alternatives to using energy in the way that we do? Home heating for example. All new housing/office spaces should be made to meet passive house standards as a case in point (a European Directive may be one way to get this moving). Ireland’s now long dead property bubble was a massive missed opportunity, when a third of the country’s current housing stock was built. These houses were largely substandard in terms of energy efficiency (though they did meet the poor national standards at that time) and will now require expensive retro-fitting to cope with the coming oil and gas price hikes as cheap fossil fuel begins to dry up.
    I don’t think it will be an “either or” situation when it comes to energy. We will have to take an integrated approach (that is also more assertive in informing EU populations about what is at stake). How we use “cheap” fossil fuels over the coming years will be important if we are to kick-start the next energy revolution. As will the development of the European electricity smart-grid towards realising greater renewable energy development across the EU.

  8. Peter Schellinck

    This subject keeps haunting us. Now is the time to move beyond our hypocritical approach. On the one hand we want to be seen doing the clean thing and on the other hand we don’t want to be seen considering the real thing. Europe must make up it’s mind: dependency or not! The only country that can rely on independent energy supply is France and that because close to 80% is nuclear.

    We must move beyond our national independent energy policies to interdependent inter-country policies for the benefit of all. Although some regional and sub-regional energy initiatives are either in place or being contemplated, it may be useful to converge these in an inclusive package i.e. an European sustainable energy security framework. If we want Europe to be self-sufficient all studies prove that the only energy mix for us to be renewables with nuclear.

    Making a wider use of new and renewable energy resources to reduce dependency on fossil fuel will not secure our current energy requirements. Introducing innovative technologies, including clean energy technologies remains an objective but doesn’t offer an immediate solution. This process is very expensive and we need to explore innovative financing to encourage private-sector participation being aware of the dangers of government incentives (reference to the solar panel subsidy disaster). Effective management of renewables will only work if the continent has a smart grid in place and managed by a truly European energy private-public body.

    On the other hand it cannot be denied that many countries are showing a renewed interest in nuclear energy. To pursue this, they can use innovative technologies to enhance safety, reduce proliferation risks, minimize waste generation and improve economic performance. There is enough nuclear waste available to be used as a renewable for a couple of centuries. Let R&D thrive.

    Energy efficiency is a parallel requirement with the scope for reducing the energy intensity of our economies through more eco-efficient patterns of production and consumption, buildings, transportation and electric appliances. This is part of the educational and citizen awareness policies required which involves legislation, targets, subsidies, taxes, research and energy management.

    • Rémi Cesaro

      Hi Peter Schellinck,

      I would like to precise or correct some things.

      “The only country that can rely on independent energy supply is France and that because close to 80% is nuclear.”
      => False ! Uranium is not produced in France, it comes from Niger for the biggest part. But, if we compare energetic autonomy, France can provide energy during 3 months (if I don’t mistake) and some days for countries like Germany.

      “beyond our national independent energy policies to interdependent inter-country policies”
      => It is already the case. Countries in Europe are already interconnected. For example, Germany doesn’t produce all its own electricity during the year. They compensate this lack with electricity from France.

      “If we want Europe to be self-sufficient all studies prove that the only energy mix for us to be renewables with nuclear.” and “Making a wider use of new and renewable energy resources to reduce dependency on fossil fuel will not secure our current energy requirements. ”
      => Unfortunetely this is true. The main challenge is to provide solutions to store energy from wind farme or PV power plant. I know a nice American project : they made a new kind of battery with very abondant componants and a good capacity of storage. That’s could be a way to interact with alternative energies.

    • Peter Schellinck

      Hi my friend Rémi Cesaro,

      just some additional comments:

      In France, more than 70,000 metric tons of uranium has been mined since 1946. The deposits are primarily located in the Limousin, Forez, and Vendée. Mining for uranium ore ceased in 2001 when the economically recoverable deposits were depleted. Uranium was mined at 210 sites in France scattered all over the country.
      Redeveloping and monitoring all of the sites is being conducted in accordance with agreements with the French government. Uranium for the French program totals 10,500 tones per year coming from various locations such as:
      ▪ Canada – 4500 tU/yr
      ▪ Niger – 3200 tU/yr

      France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of generation, and gains over EUR 3 billion per year from this.

      France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. It also has an extremely low level of CO2 emissions per capita from electricity generation, since over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro.

      Unfortunately inter-country connectivity is still a mayor issue. Smart Grids are a key component of the European strategy towards a low-carbon energy future. Smart grids should integrate the actions of all energy suppliers and consumers connected to the grid and feature an intelligent monitoring system to track electricity flows in all directions in the EU.

      Developing a productive and diverse energy mix is proving to be very complex and difficult. Just look what the new health and safety recommendations are like for the wind farms. The noise pollution is such that investors are turning away as several installations will be closed down. The subsidy policy for solar panels dried up and investors have left the field resulting in substantial bankruptcies across the EU. Biofuels took 15 years of development and represent less than 3% of the energy mix.

  9. Rémi Cesaro

    Be energetically independent is not only an interesting goal, it is an obligation ! If we want to create a sustainable world, we have to promote energy independence in all countries (or group of countries). Why ? Because prosperity and peace are linked to sustainability. Energies like oil or nuclear create geopolitical tensions. Oil problematic is the most common (Wars in Irak, in Libya, tensions in all countries of Arabic peninsula). Nuclear problematic is relevant in Africa. Soon a new fight started between France and China to exploit uranium mines in Niger. If countries are energetically independent tensions will decrease (at least for this problem).

    Now, the question is “Can we be energetically independent ?”. I want to believe it ! But, we can hope this future ONLY if we can be sober and reduce our current consumption of energy. We are consuming too much already. We import a lot of resources and 4 billions of people are waiting and fighting to have life standards equivalent to ours. Natural raw materials are not well distributed and Europe should play a role to change that.

    Can we reduce our consumption ? I want to say YES ! It will not easy because we have to change our habit and the challenge is to provide a new system of consumption more environmental friendly and keeping the same level of comfort.

    How could we do that ? Some ideas :
    – Increase price of energy when you are consuming more than a certain limit.
    – Stop to programmed obsolescence which reduces the lifetime of your equipments
    – Improve thermic insulation
    – Promote bioenergies (production of gas from organic waste)
    – …

    I think we can change all these things. But to do that we have to change our economic system. Liberalism is not promoting sobriety, cooperation and coordination.

  10. Lemi

    I assume when you mean solar enegry, you mean enegry originating from the sun and not enegry produced from solar panels.Except for some organisims living around volcanic vents on the bottom of some oceans, all living material can trace its origin to solar enegry.Light from the sun is used by plants in the process of photosynthesis. Plants for the most part are at the bottom of the food chain and therefore all animals above plants on the food chain rely on them directly or indirectly for food. Therefore all living things rely on solar enegry to survive.Since organic fuels are merely decayed plant or animal matter, then yes the enegry release was once solar enegry.

  11. Hex

    Its about time the human race evolved into each country providing their own energy resources. Its not impossible; Europe, water; Americas & Islands; wind, Africa; solar. Every country should provide their own energy and that energy should not be traded. Until we do this, we will continue to have dubious intervention Oilwellian war situations.

    Of course, this would mean a complete restructuring of countries’ finances – but isn’t it about time that happened anyway?

  12. Harry Verhaar

    Europe will never lead in cheapest energy, instead Europe should lead in least energy. If we increase our efforts in Energy Efficiency (which is a revolving investment), this will lower our overall energy bill and reduce import depencies. Moreover the EE agenda is an innovation agenda, for which Europe is ideally positioned, allowing also benefits from the growth in exporting innovative EE products and services.

    How can we collectively see, embrace and make an effort of this logical agenda (combined with RE)?

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