Is the conflict in Ukraine accelerating Europe’s switch to renewable energy?

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s output of renewable energy reached record highs, prompting some energy specialists to forecast that Europe is about to make significant strides in the production of clean energy. However, other researchers predict that a recession, energy austerity measures, and de-industrialization will reduce European emissions in the coming year. According to a study by the energy think tanks E3G and Ember, power produced in the European Union from solar photovoltaics and wind grew by a record 13 percent from March to September, rising from 311 terawatt-hours to 350TWh.

This had the added appeal of being a steady supply at constant pricing at a time when Russia was limiting gas supplies to Europe and stirring up concerns about blackouts. According to the International Energy Agency, producers of fossil fuels, notably Russia, generated $2 trillion in unanticipated profits during the conflict (IEA). According to E3G and Ember, the EU’s output of solar and wind energy prevented it from having to import an estimated 70 billion cubic meters of gas worth $99 billion. According to Artur Patuleia, “the conflict had two effects: it sped up the deployment of projects that were already in the pipeline, and it elevated member states’ ambition, which will have an impact on the deployment pipeline for the ensuing years.

The director of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Professor Jonathan Stern, is less upbeat. “Europe is entering a severe recession. In my opinion, it might be even worse than [the COVID-19 pandemic recession of 2020], causing deindustrialization and driving industry to the US and the Middle East. It all signals political instability and is not the slightest bit good, he said. Metals and other energy-intensive businesses claim that excessive energy prices may force them to leave Europe. According to Stern, renewable energy will continue to be appealing, but there won’t be enough money to scale it up because the European Union has committed $500 billion to industry and consumer subsidies.

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The EU will provide twice as much in loan guarantees for new renewable energy capacity through its Recovery and Resilience Fund from 2020 to 2027, according to this estimate. According to Stern, “the $500 billion lesson is that governments are willing to spend nearly any amount to keep people from losing their energy. Ambitions require funding, and one issue is that it appears that, at least in many European countries, investment in renewables is slowing down. Governments should intervene and provide the necessary funding to ensure that it takes place, but they lack the resources to do so, he continued.

The IEA thinks the energy rift between the EU and Russia will never heal. As part of EU sanctions, the flow of Russian coal, crude oil, and refined oil products into the EU was stopped in August, will be stopped in January, and will be prohibited in February, respectively. Russia has reduced gas deliveries by 80% in retaliation compared to previous year. In the short term, the loss of Russian gas has resulted in a greater reliance on coal, according to the IEA’s annual World Energy Outlook report. The European Union, however, “in all of our scenarios, makes up for the loss of Russian imports with an expedited shift away from natural gas through a surge in renewable capacity increases and a push to remodel buildings and install heat pumps.”

Some outcomes are universal. For many years, fossil fuels met around 80% of the world’s energy needs. For the first time, the IEA predicts that this will change to 75% by 2030 and 60% by 2050 based solely on stated policies. These percentages would probably decrease much further if pledges that have been announced are kept. By 2030, the IEA predicts that annual global investments in renewable energy would nearly treble to $2 trillion. It claims that while this is not enough to reach the UN’s target of net zero emissions by 2050, it is a significant improvement above expectations from the previous year. Thanks to the remarkable response from governments all across the world, this could be a turning point in history for a cleaner and more secure energy system, according to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

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Recent crises have thrown a wrench in Europe’s plans for a greener future. According to the IEA, worldwide investment in renewables remained constant at $1 trillion a year for five years following the Paris Accord, where UN members committed to halting global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The Recovery and Resilience Fund, a $730 billion stimulus program announced by Europe in 2020 during the pandemic recession, allocated 37% of its funds to renewable generating capacity. This was done in order to achieve the target of using renewable energy sources to meet 32% of global final energy consumption by 2030. In response to predictions of a speeding up of climate change, the EU determined in 2021 to achieve a target of 40% renewable energy consumption by 2030.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the EU increased that target to 45 percent. Production of power, transportation, heating, and cooling all contribute to total ultimate energy consumption. At least 69 percent of the electricity needed to meet it must come from renewable sources. According to E3G and Ember, several member nations’ objectives already exceed that objective. By 2030, Portugal, Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands intend to generate all of their electricity from renewable sources; Germany and Spain aim to generate roughly 80%. The European Commission requested a voluntary 15% reduction in gas consumption from nations in July. Analysts claim that the majority of nations have done so. According to Stern, our emissions will be fixed by the recession—at least temporarily. It clearly did so during the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns caused an emissions reduction of 5.8 percent, the greatest ever, and a 4 percent reduction in energy use. People claim that the energy crisis is advantageous since we must reduce our emissions anyhow.

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