Europe moves away from Russia’s oil and gas

Windmills running on a farm in Germany (© Martin Meissner/AP)
More European Union countries used renewable energy in 2022, including wind, as seen at this wind farm in Nordhorn, Germany. (© Martin Meissner/AP)

The European Union is producing all-time highs of wind and solar energy as the 27-country group works to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels from Russia.

Four months after Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the European Commission launched REPowerEU. This campaign aims to:

  • Boost the use of renewable energy.
  • Reduce overall energy consumption.
  • Diversify energy sources.

EU countries were already moving toward renewable energy, but Russia’s war against Ukraine accelerated that trend. In 2022, for the first time, wind and solar power surpassed gas as a source of electricity. Wind and solar provided a record-breaking 22% of EU countries’ electrical supply, according to London-based energy think tank Ember.

Photo of solar panels on roofs and text with statistics on EU energy generation (Graphic: State Dept./M. Gregory. Photo: © Milos Ruzicka/
(State Dept./M. Gregory)

“We have to double down on investments in home-grown renewables,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in October 2022. “Not only for the climate but also because the transition to the clean energy is the best way to gain independence and to have security of energy supply.”

Across the continent, growth in solar generation rose by 25% in 2022, according to Ember. Twenty EU countries produced their highest share of solar power in 2022. In October, Greece ran entirely on renewables for several hours and is seven years ahead of schedule for its 2030 solar capacity target.

By 2030, RePowerEU aims to provide more than 40% of the EU’s total power from renewables.

Reducing demand, diversifying sources

To meet the European Commission’s goal to cut EU energy usage by 15%, people and governments changed their habits and became more energy-efficient. Among their actions:

  • Germany turned down the heat in public buildings and lowered the cost of train tickets to reduce car usage.
  • Spain ordered stores and public buildings to turn off their lights at night.
  • France dimmed the Eiffel Tower and reduced city speed limits.

For the oil and gas that the EU still needed to import, countries turned to partners such as Norway and the United States.

Photo of smokestack flaring gas and text with statistic on EU gas consumption (Graphic: State Dept./M. Gregory. Photo: © Oil and Gas Photographer/
(State Dept./M. Gregory)

EU countries also built new liquefied natural gas terminals and expanded non-Russian pipelines to provide alternative routes for fossil fuel energy.

These shifts to non-Russian energy sources have “dramatically and permanently changed global gas trade and energy markets,” according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Increasing energy independence

Putin cut Russia’s gas and oil supplies to EU countries, but that move failed to undermine EU’s support for Ukraine as he had hoped, analysts say.

“Russia hoped to pose a stark trade-off for Europe: support Ukraine and freeze or tolerate Russia’s invasion and remain warm,” said Mitchell Orenstein, who chairs Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Instead, EU countries turned away from Russia’s energy and the EU is more energy independent than a year ago.

“Europe’s energy divorce from Russia is nearly complete,” Andrew Lipow, president of oil industry and market consulting firm Lipow Oil Associates, told Politico.

Russia’s revenue from oil and gas is down 45% year over year in the first quarter of 2023, according to business reports.

Revenue from oil and gas made up nearly half of Russia’s federal budget in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA forecasts that Russia’s energy exports will fall by 7% in the coming decade.

“The era of Russia’s domination in the gas area is coming to an end, the era marked with blackmail, threats and extortion,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. He made his remarks at the opening of the Baltic Pipe, a new gas initiative between Poland and Denmark. “Today, we are starting a new era: the era of energy sovereignty, energy freedom and increased safety.”