The European Union imports over half (53%) of all the energy it consumes. This heavy dependency on energy imports can have geopolitical ramifications, as Russian threats to “turn off the gas” during the height of the Ukraine crisis made crystal clear. Achieving energy security is therefore an important goal for many EU Member States.
Since the Ukraine crisis, efforts have been made to diversify energy suppliers. The Baltic state of Lithuania, for example, completed a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in 2014, allowing it to break the monopoly enjoyed by Russian gas and instead import gas from Norway (and, eventually, from the USA).
However, the collapse of global oil prices might have thrown a spanner in the works. Since 2014, the price of oil has fallen by over 70%. With Saudi Arabia keen to keep production high in order to maintain its market share, coupled with a slowdown in China and the lifting of sanctions against Iran, oil prices could indeed fall further. What does this mean for energy security in Europe? Does cheap oil make it harder for Europe to break its dependency on energy imports?
Want to learn more about energy security in Europe? Have a look at our infographic below (click for a larger image):
We had a comment sent in from Yannick arguing that energy security in Europe would only be achievable through renewable technology; “energy security means sustainable energy.”
Is Yannick right? To get a response, we spoke to energy journalist Sergio Matalucci to see whether he agreed that renewables are the only way to guarantee energy security in Europe. What would he say?
I think there is not one single solution. First, because different countries have different renewable potential. For example, there has been too much emphasis on wind power in Italy, when it’s clear that Italy has lots of sun. Nevertheless, renewables are important and are going to be the solution in the long-term.
Nowadays, they are still relatively expensive [and] the fact that the oil price is collapsing poses a threat for renewables in the medium-term – i.e. the next three to five years… But, in general, I think that renewables are going to be the backbone of European energy over the next 20 years…
But what about over the medium-term? We had a comment from Drew arguing that low oil and gas prices would slow the transition to sustainable energy. Did Sergio Matalucci agree? What did he think would be the impact of low oil prices on the transition to renewables?
It will not stop it. It’s basically impossible [the prevent the transition to renewables] for several reasons, not least that renewables are supported financially by governments and the European Union. So, renewables will continue to be important for Europe. Obviously, the fact that they have a stronger competitor in oil makes things a tad more complicated. There is not such a strong economic rational for renewables now. Which means that now is the moment that renewable technologies have to become cheaper…
But we also have to take into consideration the fact that the timespans are different. A renewable project takes a long time to implement; the design and construction of a photovoltaic park, for example, takes years. Whereas oil prices can go up and down in a matter of six months. So, prices are important, but are just one factor…
To get another perspective, we spoke to energy economist Claudia Kemfert, to hear what she had to say. How would she respond to Drew’s comment about the impact of low oil prices on renewables?
Finally, we also had a comment from Max, who wanted to know if fossil fuels could be used as “bridge technologies” to a sustainable energy mix via CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage. He says he don’t understand why it hasn’t been widely-adopted.
We put Max’s comment to Claudia Kemfert. What is CSS, and why isn’t it more popular as a solution to Europe’s energy question?
What’s the best way to improve energy security in Europe? Is renewable energy the only way to guarantee Europe’s energy security? Or has the collapse in oil prices changed the economic rational for low-carbon technologies? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Paul Cross
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