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Natural gas crisis challenges EU clean energy transition

Tensions between Russia and Western economies have been constantly on the rise since the Crimean Crisis in 2014. The current impact that Ukraine invasion may have in the price of natural gas will certainly add pressure to the European economic recovery from the pandemic crisis. In fact, the latest cancellation of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline represent the first bridge burnt between Russia and Western Europe since the Ukraine invasion. Western Europe is forced to start thinking about how it is going to compensate for the natural gas supply that most certainly will not be able to keep importing from Russia.

Given that it looks unlikely for the Western European countries to function without Russian gas imports on the long term, they will need to either turn to other plausible gas suppliers, or other energy sources, for the clean energy transition to go forward successfully, as it will need time and political goodwill that can only be achieved while the basic energy demands are being met. Turning to another gas supplier like Algiers could be complicated due to the troubling relationship with neighboring Morocco, and the fact that some of the largest projects in the country are operated through joint ventures with Russian Gazprom. Another viable option may be increasing imports of LNG from the US, but it would require significant investment to scale up regasification capacity especially in the regions that are more reliant on Russian gas. However, for this bump in the road to not become a troubling setback in the EU clean energy transition, the EU will have to be careful about what kind of energy projects it resorts to even out its energy balance.

One of the sources that some countries may veer towards is nuclear power, as the second-largest source of low carbon energy. Investing in nuclear power could be particularly advantageous during these current turbulent times, since it is a relatively clean energy and less vulnerable to price variations caused by unforeseeable factors. While nuclear power has an intrinsic bad reputation, current security protocols and the little chance of tectonic disasters in Europe reduce the possibility of a nuclear catastrophes. Also, the nuclear fusion has always been perceived as the definitive form of clean energy, and recent milestone achieved in February in the experimental Joint European Torus, have renewed the optimism on this power technology.

Since not all the EU members are as reliant on Russian gas or enjoy enough economic stability to sustain the rising inflation that may come from stopping Russian gas imports, frictions among members and the EU commission are likely to arise too. To avoid that, it may be paramount for the EU to come up with a comprehensive strategy that works for the EU, prioritizing the interests of the most vulnerable members. Currently, the EU response to this situation has been a new plan called Repower EU, which aims to eliminate the bloc’s dependance of Russian imports by 2030. But for this crisis to damage the EU as little as possible, it’s fundamental that the population feels the consequences of the diplomatic scuffle as little as possible.