The International Energy Agency (IEA) outlined a roadmap for European countries to reduce their reliance on Russian natural gas and accelerate the green transition, yet pre-existing challenges relating to baseload generation persist. 

On Thursday March 3, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a 10-point plan to reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian natural gas and accelerate the green transition.

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The plan proposes that the bloc should take on no new gas supply contracts with Russia, replace Russian supplies with non-Russian sources and accelerate the deployment of wind and solar projects, among other measures, to reduce Russian imports on gas by more than a third by next year. 

More renewables projects, fewer permits

“The IEA’s 10-point plan provides practical steps to cut Europe’s reliance on Russian gas imports by more than a third within a year while supporting the shift to clean energy in a secure and affordable way,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said. 

On the wind and solar deployment, Mr Birol added that “with concerted action to fast track further renewables projects, simplifying permitting and administrative barriers, the EU could get a significant amount of generation from new renewable projects”.

“There is no need to cut corners in regulation, just the red tape,” he said.

Fabian Rønningen, power markets analyst at Rystad Energy, tells fDi that if European regulators ease permitting access, this will definitely help speed up the clean energy transition and bring more wind and solar projects online. 

But he warns that more renewable projects do not solve the issue that the European power system is completely dependent on natural gas to balance any intermittencies. “What will the baseload generation be for the future? We cannot have a system only based on solar and wind. The percentage of renewables will continue to grow but there needs to be some flexibility in the system,” he says.

As of 2019, wind and solar accounted for 17.5% of the EU's net electricity generation.   

On Monday 28 February, EU energy ministers met in Brussels to discuss offering energy support to Ukraine and reducing their dependence on Russian gas from their long-term horizon strategies.  

Germany’s ministry of energy plans to push the Renewable Energy Sources Act through parliament so that it can come into force by July. The country has targeted 100% clean energy by 2035.

Yet as with planned investments in liquified natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, accelerated strategies will not alter Europe’s energy supply overnight. Lucia van Geuns, strategic energy advisor at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, says that these EU-wide and country specific ministers’ plans are a long-term solution to an immediate problem. 

Nuclear and coal?

“This dependency on Russia will remain in the short and mid-term,” she says, adding that while clean energy is the ultimate goal, more coordinated discussions on a European level should be stepped up, namely on the role of nuclear energy and the need for better gas and electricity distribution links between EU countries.

The UK and France have both signalled that nuclear energy will be part of their low-carbon futures. 

During the unveiling of the IEA’s 10-point plan on March 3, Barbara Pompili, France’s energy transition minister, told reporters that nuclear power is part of a decarbonisation effort in France and can help the country be less dependent on fossil fuels.

Mr Rønningen says that while the reduction of dependency on Russian gas has the potential to accelerate the shift towards clean energy, it could also promote the use of coal, which was already on the rise due to the high gas prices.

“If we’re going to reduce gas from the energy mix, coal is the only source that can meet the shortfall in the short-term,” he says.

In its European Electricity Review published in February, Ember, an energy think tank, found that renewable energy has been replacing gas, not coal, in recent years, with more than half of new renewable generation replacing gas power between 2019 and 2021. 

Prior to this, between 2011 and 2019 more than 80% of new renewables replaced coal, the report says.