License: All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace

How can Europe reduce its reliance on Russian gas?

Christine Ottery and Damian Kahya
Christine Ottery and Damian Kahya are journalists at Greenpeace
License: All rights reserved. Credit: Gazprom


This article has been corrected to make clear that the map (below) shows gas supplied from Gazprom, the gas may - or may not - come from Russia but often does not. For a run-down of where the UK gets it's gas see this story based on UK trade data. 


As the European Union looks to agree on the future of its climate and energy policy the conflict in Ukraine has raised fears over gas supply in Europe.

Around 30% of the EU’s gas comes from Russia and around a third of that goes through the Ukraine - which Russia's gas giant Gazprom is threatening with sanctions. The latest instability pushed up gas price futures by 10%.

An analysis by Energydesk of the European Commission’s impact assessment suggests that new emissions targets would push down Europe’s gas imports.

The analysis suggests adding renewables and efficiency targets could cut imports by twice as much as an emissions target alone.

At the same time an analysis by Poyry argues that European shale gas could also reduce imports - though the same analysis sees no impact from rising imports from Russia through to 2030.

How much gas do we get from Gazprom exactly?

According to Gazprom the EU gets between 25 and 30% of its gas from the state-owned firm and Europe accounts for 30% of its total exports. The European market therefore accounts for two thirds of its revenue.

How could our imports be cut?

The EC’s impact assessment, published alongside its 2030 energy package in January, states that a 40% greenhouse gas reduction target  would reduce energy imports compared to business as usual - but a scenario with a 40% GHG target, a 30% renewables target and ‘ambitious energy efficiency policies’ would cut net imports by more than half by 2050.

Drilling down into the data to look purely at natural gas imports, the Commission’s document shows the consumption of gas declines by 13% by 2030 in the 40% scenario, and 37% by 2050 (compared to business as usual). But in the scenario with an additional 30% renewable energy target and energy efficiency policies, the decrease was significantly larger - 27% by 2030 and 54% by 2050.


The Commission says this reduction under a high RES scenario doesn’t equal lower energy import dependence, as the way they work that metric out is in ratios - and in the more ambitious scenario you have more energy efficiency.

Against business as usual, over 20 years this could amount to savings of 190 billion Euros by 2030 and 3,404 billlion Euros by 2050 in the 40% GHG scenario. In the more ambitious scenario with a 30% RES target, the savings are even higher at 450 billion Euros by 2030 and 4271 billion Euros by 2050.

In the UK a study by the National Grid found that if the UK takes steps to invest in clean energy (compatible with advice on limiting global temperature rise) gas use will fall by over 40% by 2030 - due largely to the decarbonisation of the power sector.

What about gas production?

Another way to reduce imports in Europe is to produce more gas - though this is a little problematic.

A study by energy consultants Poyry into European shale gas suggests supply will come on stream at scale in around a decade. By 2030, the EU’s gas import dependency could be reduced by around 10-18% depending on the success of EU shale gas extraction (see Figure 31).

The problem is, the report notes, that due to the market structure and relative cost of shale, LNG and pipeline gas even a shale boom will have no impact on Russian imports until after 2030 - though there will be a greater impact on LNG.

The Poyry scenarios assume significant gas demand (and rising Russian imports) beyond this period - because they are based on market assumptions rather than global efforts to limit climate change.

The EU has set a target of 80-95% emissions reductions by 2050. In the UK the government’s independent climate advisors have suggested this will require largely removing gas from both the power sector and heating by that time.

A study by the UK’s National Grid  found that biogas produced from waste materials could meet between 5 -18% of the UK’s existing gas needs by 2020.

What’s the political context?

The EC proposed a 2030 renewables target of at least 27% 2030 re that is binding at the European, but not member state, level in January - a position the UK now supports. But Denmark and Germany and have argued at the minister's’ meeting for a 30% renewables target, as well as an energy efficiency goal. Poland wants to delay any agreement until after 2015.

Poland, the UK and - unsurprisingly - the Ukraine support greater shale gas extraction but fracking is banned in France and effectively banned in Germany. Between them the Poyry analysis suggests the two economies hold much of Europe's available gas. 

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