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In a rush to replace Russian gas, the EU has damaged its own climate change strategy

Writer : David Toke, Reader in Power Coverage, College of Aberdeen

The European Union’s latest proposals to finish imports of Russian gasoline earlier than 2030 within the wake of the Ukraine invasion are blighted by the bloc’s assist for pointless and costly applied sciences.

The race to interchange Russian imports, which make up 40% of the EU’s gasoline provide, has centered the minds of EU leaders on local weather options that favour alternative gases, comparable to hydrogen and biogas in heating. The extra environment friendly answer could be to swap fossil gas burning boilers for options that run on electrical energy, comparable to warmth pumps. These new proposals complement the unique 2030 local weather goal plan, printed in September 2020.

The brand new proposals, which purpose to finish EU demand for Russian gasoline by securing new suppliers and fast-tracking the roll-out of “renewable gases” to section out pure gasoline in area heating, have been extremely praised. The New York Occasions mentioned they may “velocity up local weather motion”.

The truth is, it’s not clear that the brand new proposals will speed up the clear power transition. It is because incentivising farmers, multinational oil and gasoline corporations and power utilities to provide hydrogen and biogas is prone to enhance client payments at a time when many individuals are already scuffling with the hovering price of heating and electrical energy. That, in flip, may cut back funding out there for measures that may reduce emissions extra effectively.

The sprint for various gases

The pre-war 2030 local weather goal plan outlined how the EU might cut back greenhouse emissions 55% by 2030 by 70% cuts to coal use and by decreasing oil and gasoline use 30% and 25% respectively. Growing energy technology from wind, photo voltaic and different sources would guarantee renewables met 40% of all power use by the top of the last decade. In the meantime, the speed at which buildings within the EU are being renovated with insulation and different measures to make them extra power environment friendly would want to “double and extra” as much as 2030. By itself, this plan would change almost two-thirds of gasoline from Russia by 2030.

Then, within the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Fee introduced a brand new technique for phasing out the EU’s “dependence on fossil fuels from Russia … effectively earlier than 2030”. This included an 80-gigawatt enhance in wind and solar energy technology by 2030 solely to make inexperienced hydrogen – a low-carbon gas that’s the product of splitting water molecules utilizing renewable electrical energy. It additionally proposed ramping up the manufacturing of biogas – a gas made out of the anaerobic digestion of power crops, comparable to maize, and farm waste, comparable to manure.

Two domed buildings surrounded by machinery and a maize crop.
This plant converts maize into biogas.
Wolfgang Jargstorff/Shutterstock

Altogether, the EU wants to interchange 155 billion cubic metres of pure gasoline to finish its reliance on Russian suppliers. This may be accomplished with out rising the manufacturing of what the EU calls “renewable gases” like hydrogen and biogas. The pre-war local weather plan indicated that 100 billion cubic metres of Russian gasoline may very well be substituted with new renewable power and the brand new plan tasks 70 billion cubic metres might come from new LNG provides from Qatar and the US and pipeline gasoline from locations like Norway, Algeria and Azerbaijan.

In impact, the post-war plan is selling not simply the alternative of all Russian gasoline earlier than 2030, however producing further biogas and hydrogen on prime of that.

Producing an additional 25 to 50 billion cubic metres of hydrogen to interchange pure gasoline by 2030 would require an enormous build-up of kit, pipelines and storage depots over a number of years, both for producing hydrogen gas throughout the EU or importing it from abroad. Assembly the goal of 18 billion cubic metres of biogas annually by 2030 would require paying farmers to develop power crops. These crops will want fertiliser and different chemical inputs that emit greenhouse gases throughout manufacturing, doubtlessly cancelling out the local weather advantages of biogas.

Incentives that may in any other case pay for producing inexperienced hydrogen or biogas must be used to put in further hundreds of thousands of electrical warmth pumps and renovate buildings to make sure they waste much less power as a substitute. Consultants have argued that prioritising the alternative of pure gasoline with hydrogen in heating represents an enormous waste of renewable energy in contrast with utilizing that very same electrical energy in warmth pumps. In line with one evaluation, warmth pumps use renewable electrical energy to provide heat 4 occasions extra effectively and at a lot decrease prices to the buyer in comparison with inexperienced hydrogen.

A large white-and-black fan unit outside an apartment window.
Warmth pumps work like a fridge in reverse to maintain houses heat utilizing electrical energy.

There are round 131 million buildings within the EU, but beneath its newest plans, the EU tasks that solely 40 million can be fitted with warmth pumps by 2030. The brand new proposals supply no clear dedication to rising the constructing renovation price.

Making a lot of hydrogen and biogas reinforces the mannequin of heating that fossil gas corporations are designed to fulfil – that’s, pumping a gasoline into constructing central heating techniques – merely to offer these corporations a brand new lease of life supplying a brand new product. This isn’t the route that may reduce emissions the quickest.

It’s clear from the European Fee’s figures that dependence on Russian gasoline could be ended simply as rapidly with out having to both depend on unsustainable power crops or large-scale hydrogen manufacturing to supply area heating.

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