Rising natural gas prices have hardened Europe’s resolve to embrace wind and solar power as a path to energy independence as hard as the US has sabotaged.
EU leaders also published their “toolbox” for tackling the energy crisis on Wednesday. This includes short-term measures to ease the pain, such as state support for homes and small businesses. Medium-term plans include voluntarily sticking together when buying Russian gas, rethinking energy-market rules, and increasing investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage.
The current crisis in Europe has echoes of the oil embargo of the 1970s. This prompted concerns about energy independence and an early flurry of interest in solar and wind power. US energy security concerns were finally allayed when fracking provided plentiful domestic sources.
The European Union, which obtained nearly half of its gas from Russia in 2020, has sought to address similar concerns by creating a more connected, competitive energy market. Supply contracts have been adjusted, market rules changed and a pipeline network built so neighbors can share fuel. Dedicated to history are the days when Russia could threaten any member country with a gas shutdown.
But the Green Revolution promises a higher level of security. Wind and solar are now proven technologies that, even without subsidies, are often the cheapest way to generate new energy. A significant challenge is that the technology to bridge the gap in these intermittent renewable energies, such as batteries and hydrogen, is still very expensive and needs work.
An unusually quiet September, which cut wind power and increased European demand for gas, highlighted both the current limits of renewable technologies and the region’s continued dependence on Russia. This helps explain why the resolve among European leaders to go green hasn’t wavered. “The clean energy transition is the best insurance against such price shocks in the future, and needs to be accelerated,” an official EU statement said on Wednesday.
The EU also sees renewable-energy technology as a business opportunity for European business, adding battery production and hydrogen technology to its industrial strategy after a decade of slow economic growth relative to the US. Block doesn’t want to be left behind this time, as it was in the digital platform revolution.
A green transition for the US to an energy exporter such as Europe may be an odd, politically contentious choice, however, it offers solutions to many problems—including those yet to emerge.