Europe’s gas crisis is also a renewables crisis, but there are ready solutions

IN THE COMMUNITTY

European natural gas prices have soared so high that hundreds of millions of people could be facing cold homes or inflated energy bills over winter. There’s also fears of a knock-on impact as carbon dioxide used in food production — a byproduct of fertilizer made with natural gas — also gets more expensive.

Politicians are blaming the surge in prices on an increase in natural gas demand as the world wakes up from the pandemic, supply disruption caused by maintenance, and a less-windy-than-usual summer that saw a drop in wind-generated power. But really, Europe’s crisis is in its renewables sector. The region has invested heavily in renewables, such as wind and solar, but it can’t get enough of this green power to the people who need it.

After the UN published its state-of-the-science climate report in August, warning the world must make deep and sustained cuts to greenhouse gas emissions this decade, there has been a growing understanding among political leaders that the transition away from fossil fuels needs to happen more quickly than planned. There are other incentives to moving faster on renewables, however. A fuller transition would free Europe from the disruption of volatile energy markets and reduce its dependence on other oil and gas providers, such as Russia. Europe could avoid its energy security getting tangled up in geopolitical storms.

More than 40 European Union lawmakers, mostly from eastern and Baltic states, have appealed to the European Commission to launch an investigation into Russia’s state gas company Gazprom. They suspect it had been restraining its supply to push up prices and pressure Germany to expedite the launch of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline that runs from Russia and under the Baltic Sea to Germany. Gazprom told CNN Business that it was supplying gas to customers abroad “in full compliance with existing contractual obligations” and that supplies were “at a level close to the historically record high” over the past eight months. The International Energy Agency said Wednesday that Russian exports to Europe were down from 2019 levels and that the country could do more to increase supplies ahead of winter.