It is becoming increasingly clear that we must move away from gas more quickly. The main driving forces have already been to reduce CO2 emissions and to stop drilling for gas in Groningen. Current developments in the world, also across the geo-political axis, make it clear once more that we really need to speed up and reduce our dependence on gas. The alternatives are there. The article by Jan de Wit on Warmte365 gives a good picture of the necessity, challenges and opportunities.

What is needed for a European future without Russian gas?

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the call for an accelerated exit from (Russian) natural gas is growing. What would that mean for the Dutch energy mix? And to what extent could this be filled with sustainable alternatives? Lauri Myllyvirta, principal analyst at the research bureau Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, thinks this is quite possible at the European level.

In the Netherlands, too, various initiatives have arisen to switch away from Russian natural gas. For example, Marjan Minnesma, director of Urgenda, and Michel Scholte, Minister of New Economy (unofficial title), called on municipalities and water boards to switch gas suppliers.

Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that a boycott of Russian energy is one of the possibilities. Germany and the United Kingdom have also indicated that they are considering an accelerated withdrawal of Russian gas.

Russian natural gas can, of course, be replaced by gas from other countries, but the switch to renewable energy solutions is a more permanent solution. Ultimately, European countries must move in that direction anyway in order to reduce their CO2 by 55% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

"We agreed to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels much faster. That appears to be the right choice", is how Jan D66 party leader Paternotte was quoted by NRC. Gert-Jan Segers, party leader of government partner ChristenUnie, was in full agreement with him and thinks that with the energy transition the cabinet "should actually stay on course and perhaps even speed it up".

Netherlands is less dependent than average
How much Russian gas does the Netherlands actually receive seems an easy question, but it is disappointing. All the Russian gas that the Netherlands receives comes in via Germany. During transport gas from Russia is mixed with gas from other countries. When the gas arrives in the Netherlands it has become a very diverse mixture.

What makes it more difficult is that the German Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control - because of privacy regulations - has stopped publishing the gas volumes per country. Thus, the study International trade in gas in the Netherlands of the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Based on a number of assumptions, the researchers of this study come to the conclusion that the gas that reaches the Netherlands via Germany is entirely Russian. With the exception of the gas that enters via the German town of Emden, which probably contains Norwegian gas. Gasunie and Gasterra also do not share data.

NRC calculated that 34 of the 40 billion cubic metres of gas that the Netherlands is expected to need by 2022 does not come from Germany. The remaining 6 billion cubic metres, about 15 percent, is probably Russian gas. In addition, Russian gas also flows through the Netherlands to other countries.

René Peters, gas expert at TNO, states in the same newspaper that as gas production from the Groningen field was reduced, gas imports from Russia increased. At the European level too, dependence on Russian gas increased, with the construction of Nord Stream 2 as an important symbol.

For a long time, this was not a problem. Russia always fulfilled its contractual agreements and could often supply relatively cheaply. Although various experts - and the United States - had been warning for some time that Europe's dependence on Russian gas was becoming too great, Russia supplied more than 30% of European natural gas last year.

The Netherlands is therefore less dependent on Russian gas than average. The dependence has also decreased over the past year. Martien Visser, lecturer on energy transition and networks at the Hanzehogeschool Groningen and manager of corporate strategy at Gasunie, reported on Twitter that in the first half of 2021, 21 percent of the natural gas in the Netherlands still came from Germany.

A challenging, but achievable task
Ultimately, Europe and the Netherlands must move towards a climate-neutral future, a future without natural gas. Now that Europe is turning away from Russia, there are also voices calling for an accelerated move away from natural gas, starting with Russian gas, and replacing it with renewable energy.

"It is a challenging task, but not as frightening as you might think," Myllyvirta states in his analysis on Twitter. "The Russian gas share is more than 30 percent right now in Europe." To which he notes that in 2010 it was only just under 23 per cent.

At European level, 40 per cent of gas is used in buildings, 33 per cent for electricity generation and 20 per cent by industry. "Gas consumption in buildings is a great opportunity, because every unit of electricity generates three to five units of heat through heat pumps," Myllyvirta recalls.

"In power generation, gas-fired power plants have an efficiency of around 50 per cent, so you replace two units of gas for every unit of electricity. All in all, we would need about 800 terawatt hours of clean electricity generation to replace imports of 160 billion cubic metres of gas, assuming that one unit of electricity replaces two units of gas."

To generate 800 terawatt hours of clean electricity, a substantial increase in capacity is needed, but this is certainly not unfeasible, according to the analyst.

"About 370 gigawatts of wind and solar power would be needed, which is less than the world installs in two years and less than China plans to install by 2025. So in a few years, the market could well provide this capacity. Europe and the UK currently generate around 1200 terawatt hours from renewables and 800 terawatt hours from nuclear, so it would be a 40 per cent increase in total clean energy generation."

'Europe will have to invest in a renewable energy infrastructure anyway'
"The other option would of course be a massive increase in import capacity," Myllyvirta also sees. "This approach would, of course, be completely at odds with Europe's climate targets, and it is not easy to see how you could force gas companies to buy more expensive gas, especially since Russia certainly wants to make it a price-cutting contest."

Europe will have to choose. Will it continue to follow the current strategy of first phasing out coal by increasing the generation capacity of renewable energy, or will it go for its geopolitical interests by first making itself independent of Russian gas? The first option delivers the most CO2 reduction in the short term. The second option more strategic energy independence.

"The option of transitioning from gas to clean energy would be feasible using Europe's existing policy instruments. It would mainly involve the gas-consuming sectors prioritising investments in emissions reduction."

A final option that Myllyvirta sees is an increase in renewable gas production. "Ukraine Bioenergy Association estimates that Ukraine could produce 17 billion cubic metres of biogas per year, enough to replace 10 percent of European imports from Russia."

As with increasing the generation of renewable energy, there must also be substantial investment in the electrification of buildings and industry, and in the transport and storage of energy. After all, the development of green hydrogen, battery storage and electrification is still far from complete.

"But these are investments that are needed in all cases to meet Europe's net emissions targets. It is just a matter of accelerating the transition in the coming years and prioritising the replacement of gas with clean energy."

By accelerating renewable energy generation, Europe would be taking steps it already intends to take, but at a faster pace. A challenging strategy, but one with an outcome that is already being sought.

The article can be found on warmte365.nl