CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

EU: Energy crisis is no excuse to give up on fossil fuel pledges

Amid the ongoing energy crisis and conflict in Ukraine, Europe is preparing for a harsh winter of price hikes and energy rationing.

With Russia’s state-run energy firm Gazprom cutting gas supplies to Europe, many have warned about the risk of shortages, including Irish EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness.

“The German minister said we may need to look at energy rationing – that could be a reality,” she said last night.

And in the face of this perturbing development, some EU countries are beginning to do the unthinkable: turning back on their coal-fired power plants to keep their society running.

As reported by Al Jazeera:

“Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have said they will ease restrictions on power stations fired by coal after Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would reduce the amount of gas it supplies via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany.”

Now, if you’re a normal person who likes having electricity and living in a post-industrial society, you probably support this move. I don’t know about you, but personally the thought of resting the fate of my society on solar panels during an Irish winter doesn’t sound too appealing. I’d prefer WiFi, central heating and warm showers, thanks.

But some people, it seems, have very different priorities. European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen was quick to slam the move as “backsliding” on Europe’s fossil fuel pledges:

“Ursula von der Leyen said governments need to stay focused on “massive investment in renewables”. “We have to make sure that we use this crisis to move forward and not to have a backsliding on the dirty fossil fuels,” she said in an interview. “It’s a fine line and it’s not determined whether we are going to take the right turn.”

So essentially, the power is about to go out in Europe, and Von Der Leyen’s top concern is making sure we meet our climate targets and not use evil fuel sources like coal.

To understand just how daft this actually is, take Ireland as an example, where today 2.79% of our energy came from “renewables.” Which means 97.2% come from fossil fuels.

Bear in mind that when we say renewables, that includes solar power, which is unreliable in Ireland at the best of times, but even more so in the winter. So the true renewable figure we could expect to use in darker months is even less than 2.7%.

In other words, there is absolutely no feasible way a country like Ireland could be expected to use anything but fossil fuels short term, even with “massive investment in renewables.”

At the big picture scale, about 39% of the EU’s energy supply comes from renewables.

Of this 39%, solar power constitutes 5%. But solar power is totally unreliable in the winter, when electricity is most needed. A further 6% comes from biofuels, which are derived from food and feed crops – crops that are in increasingly short supply as the Russia-Ukraine war rages on.

The remaining 28% comes from wind turbines and hydropower plants, which are a bit more dependable (at least by renewable standards). But that still leaves a gap of around 72% which the EU would have to make up to be able to ditch fuels like gas and oil. And we would have to do this in the space of 3 or 4 months in time for the winter.

The point being, if Europe’s gas supply is threatened by Russia, it is absolutely 100% necessary to fall back on existing energy sources like coal. There is simply no other feasible option. This isn’t opinion – it’s fact. And no amount of green idealism will change that.

At this point, cheerleaders for the Green cause in the face of the current crisis are essentially in the childlike position of wishing that sweeties would rain from the sky. We can click our heels three times and wish for offshore turbines, but at this point it’s only a fart in the wind.

Unless Europe goes back to basics and uses energy sources we know will actually work, we’re going to be in for a very rough winter.


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