Blog post by Katarina Nikodemova
Europe is in energy crisis, let’s look at the solutions
The day of 24 February 2022 set off an alarm in Europe. Not only did the aggression on Ukraine start, a new energy crisis was also launched in Europe.
After initial shock that war is a reality in Europe, Slovakia realised that as a neighbouring country, its dependence on Russian fossil fuels became a huge burden. Europe reacted and launched the initiative REPowerEU. Individual countries mobilised their energy saving potential. All efforts were invested into diversifying natural gas sources, because Russia was no longer a reliable supplier.
Russia’s gas is blood-stained gas – gas by which Putin finances his war on Ukraine. Paradoxically, thanks to this crisis, Europe learned several lessons. We are living a historical moment, that might mean a new era for many European countries. Looking at the solutions and ways to implement them might be a new restart for green economy transition in many countries in Europe.
Energy independence is better than dependence
Europe had to face that we have severe investment debt in being self-sufficient in energy sources. Slovakia was extremely dependent on gas imported from Russia. Germany also relied too much on Russian gas. This year we learned a cruel lesson that if we are too dependent, we are vulnerable.
The threat of not having enough gas to heat our homes was so real and so close, that we were forced to look for solutions quickly. The winners in this situation were homeowners of passive houses, owners of renewable energy sources and companies that were not so dependent on fossil fuels. Acting under time pressure was not pleasant, but at least some of the long-delayed solutions suddenly got approval for implementation.
Slovakia was hesitant when it came to energy savings. We negotiated exemptions to general European goals to save 15% of energy consumption until March 2023. The previous economy minister communicated this as a political win in Slovakia. However, it only took several months to realise that this approach is very short sighted and the Ministry is now planning to launch an information campaign on energy savings with an ambition to make public buildings leaders in energy savings.
Cheap energy sources can quickly become expensive
We have been listening for too long how natural gas is good, affordable and cheap. We built the whole infrastructure for this energy source. Heat pumps were not good enough compared to gas. A few months later, the whole logic is upside down. The prices for gas increased to extreme levels. People and companies that are dependent on it, struggle. The danger of rising energy poverty is real. All of a sudden, it is out of our control. How much it will cost next week, next month, next year is out of our control. Maybe there will be no gas at all. What we, however, can control is energy demand.
The winners of the situation are those who invested into lowering their energy demand and those who are not dependent on gas, but on sun, wind or water. The companies did not have enough time to react which caused the situation we are facing now. The heat pump manufacturers don’t have satisfactory capacities to meet the demand for production. It is the same for producers of insulation and construction materials. The events happened so fast, that companies and governments struggle to react on time.
Cooperation is a key to success
Countries learned that it is good to be part of the bigger club. Especially in Eastern Europe, we often gossip about how the European structures are slow and bureaucratic. Now, we can feel the concrete benefit of feeling safe and rely on common solutions and negotiations. When it comes to looking for new suppliers or dealing with the prices, we could see that being part of a cooperative community is a win.
Europe has many struggles ahead. The war is not over yet. The solutions for an energy self-sufficient and energy efficient Europe are not in place yet. We need cooperation, self-assurance and involvement of political leaders into discussion about challenges and struggles.
The C4E Forum 2023 will be a great opportunity for bringing key actors together for discussions on these hot topics. None of the previous C4E Forums were held under such crucial political circumstances as this one. The agenda will cover the topic of energy efficiency in line with key European strategies and legislation, views on actions of member states and the perspectives of the CEE region as well as the need to discuss strategies for rebuilding Ukraine after the war is over. Join us for these discussions. We are all part of the solution.
About the author:
Katarína Nikodemová, Director of the Buildings for the Future, specializes on public policies and governance. After graduating from Political Science and European Studies, she worked for the European Commission and European Parliament, National Council of the Slovak Republic and several renowned NGOs both in Brussels and Slovakia. At previous positions, she specialized on activities related to climate change. For more than three years she is now leading a platform Buildings for the Future based in Slovakia focusing on public policies related to building sector. Buildings for the Future is a platform of 9 member associations, is an active member of the Slovak Climate Initiative that works towards sustainable energy and energy efficiency in line with the climate protection and national partner of the Renovate Europe Campaign.