As the tendrils of Russia’s military might continue to tighten their stranglehold on neighbouring Ukraine, more countries are boycotting the supply of one of Russia’s biggest exports by increasing energy independence.
The invasion has exposed the fragility of Europe’s natural gas supply chain. With 40% of gas consumed in the EU supplied by Russia, the EU’s nation states have been and – in certain cases – continue to be heavily reliant upon Russian gas.
A new EU strategy released last month, called the REPowerEU plan, aims to make Europe independent of Russian fossil fuels by 2030, which the EU states are being wielded as an ‘economic and political weapon’ by the country.
In addition to increasing energy security for Europe and Ukraine, the plan aims to advance diversification of energy supplies and the investment of renewables to accelerate the green transition.
Europe has sought to diversify its supplies and reduce reliance on Russian gas by importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from other countries such as the US, Qatar, Australia, and Japan.
One of Russia’s biggest LNG importers, Germany, has historically bought a significant percentage of its natural gas from the country. To reduce its dependence, Germany has taken extra measures to ensure energy security following the announcement of new LNG terminals.
Although the UK’s Russian gas imports equate to less than 5% of its supply, PM Boris Johnson has called for the country to phase out imports of Russian oil by the end of the year, an eventuality for which Lithuania has been gearing towards.
With its roots set deep in the foundations of the Eastern bloc’s brutalist past, Lithuania is no stranger to bully tactics when it comes to gas and oil supply.
An interconnected Europe
Gas Interconnection Poland (GIPL), a gas pipeline that connects Poland with Lithuania, is helping to integrate the Baltic states into the EU gas pipeline network. By connecting to Lithuania, Poland is able to supply the entire Baltic ‘energy island’ with gas, including Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.
At a total cost of over half a billion euros, the pan-European project – which stretches over 500km and has a capacity of 2.3bcm (billion cubic metres) per year - allows several countries to reduce a dependency on Russian gas that has been in place since Soviet times.
At the commissioning of GIPL earlier this year Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda stated that ‘Russia has not been and is not a reliable partner.”
For Lithuania, this is old news. Since 2014 the country has been attempting to reduce reliance on Russian gas by receiving LNG at its Klaipeda LNG terminal.
Commissioned by Lithuania, together with the South Korean company Hyundai Heavy Industries, the liquefied gas storage vessel was built by Norwegian company Hoegh LNG at a South Korean shipyard.
Its first supplier through the terminal was Norwegian firm Statoil, which entered into a five-year agreement to supply the minimum volume of gas required for operation of the terminal – 540 mcm (million cubic metres) of natural gas.
Lithuania’s weaning off from Russian gas is reflected in its year-on-year import numbers, made even more apparent when compared to other European countries.
According to gasworld Business Intelligence (BI), Lithuania has reduced its Russian natural gas imports from 3.9% in 2012 to just 0.4% in 2021.
Conversely, Germany remained a stable customer of Russian gas during the same time span, importing about 37% - or 31.4 million cubic metres – of its natural gas from the country in 2012 and 36% - or 48.1 million cubic metres in 2021.
Germany’s gas independence has been hampered by the country’s lack of LNG infrastructure development. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, it was the only major EU country that did not have its own infrastructure for receiving tankers with LNG and subsequent regasification, according to news source DW.
Being developed by Uniper, the €65m Wilhelmshaven project, located at the country’s deepest port, is one of four planned German LNG receiving projects, two of which are set to begin operations in late 2022/early 2023.
Alternative energies to reduce Europe’s dependance
Part of the REPowerEU strategy involves the exploration of alternative energies such as biogas and its upgraded form biomethane and hydrogen to transition away from both Russian gas and fossil fuels in general.
In its Biomethane Action Plan (BAP), the EU intends to stimulate the renewable gas value chain and achieve the production of 35bcm of biomethane by 2030.
By using a ‘smart combination’ of investments and reforms, biomethane could be used to diversify energy sources, accelerate the clean energy transition, and increase energy savings.
In an open letter to PM Boris Johnson published earlier this year, Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biomethane Association (ADBA) called for the UK to boost the production of biomethane as a way to add another layer of sanctions against Russian leader Vladimir Putin, simultaneously strengthening the country’s long-term energy and food security.
“Biomethane from AD should be an integral part of the UK’s energy strategy,” she said.
”Last year, the UK imported 24.6TWh (terawatt hours) of natural gas from Russia, with immediate government backing, this gas demand could be directly replaced with home-grown biomethane within the next four years.”
It’s estimated that, by 2030, the UK’s AD sector could deliver an estimated 55-76TWh of biomethane – more than two to three times the amount the UK currently imports from Russia.
In addition to helping ‘green’ the gas grid – responsible for 23% of total annual emissions – biomethane can boost the UK’s energy transition through its ability to convert to hydrogen and vice versa.
“Together, they can deliver a net zero gas sector,” revealed Morton. “In fact, converting biomethane to green hydrogen can be net negative.”