With the United States and United Kingdom banning Russian energy exports and the European Union announcing it will reduce Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year, the West is urgently debating how to replace Russian energy deliveries. The most crucial issue is the Russian gas on which Germany and other parts of Europe depend. From Washington to Berlin, politicians have announced they will be doubling down on wind and solar energy.
But while renewable energy production will be part of a long-term solution, the idea that it can replace Russian oil and gas quickly and at scale is disingenuous at best—and disastrous for Western economies and consumers at worst. The reasons should be clear to all but the energy-illiterate: Wind and solar power can replace some of the Russian gas used to generate electricity—but only when the wind blows and the sun shines, requiring substantial backup generation capacity, much of it powered by natural gas. What’s more, electricity is only part of the energy equation: The majority of Russian oil and gas is not used by power plants but to heat homes, run factories, and fuel cars, trucks, planes, and ships—none of which can be easily shifted to other fuels. If Western countries don’t want their economies to come to a standstill, oil and gas previously delivered from Russia needs to be sourced elsewhere.
Europe will therefore need a large, reliable supply of non-Russian fossil fuel for the foreseeable future. And any serious debate about energy security needs to focus very quickly on where future non-Russian supplies will be sourced. For Europe—especially Germany and the other countries most dependent on Russian supplies—part of the answer will be for Europe to stop looking east and start looking south to Africa.
Germany is the linchpin. For the past several decades, successive governments in Berlin have pursued a policy of maximizing the country’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, not least by turning off all but two remaining nuclear reactors. Gas will likely remain a critical source of Germany’s energy for years—perhaps decades—to come.
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