In other words, it’s now countries in Western Europe that are serving as the continent’s gateway to gas. And countries in the east and southeast suddenly find themselves at the end of the supply chain.
“The trouble is that Europe’s gas infrastructure wasn’t designed for such a shift,” says Paolo Gabrielli, a senior researcher in Sansavini’s group and co-author of the study. Cross-border pipelines are operating at maximum capacity, especially in Southeastern Europe.
“This is why Southeastern Europe is particularly vulnerable to gas shortages and relies on agreements with other countries.” Gabrielli adds that existing bottlenecks can be removed by additional investments in the gas infrastructure.
Based on their results, the researchers are calling on policymakers to coordinate the distribution and consumption of gas at the international level.
Moreover, private individuals and companies throughout Europe must be given greater incentives to effect a measured reduction in their gas consumption wherever possible – even when there is no acute shortage. This would help keep gas storage as full as possible so as to be prepared for a cold winter.
“Voluntarily reducing demand to distribute the burden evenly is far less painful than forcing a country to massively reduce its demand because there’s no energy available,” says Jacob Mannhardt, doctoral student in Sansavini’s group and lead author of the study.
“International collaboration together with anticipatory energy savings are the most cost-effective way of preventing a severe energy crisis.”
Reducing climate impact and dependence
In their study, the ETH researchers analysed the entire energy system by looking not just at gas but also at other energy sources and the electricity grid. This allowed them to calculate that turning off gas-fired power stations and instead generating more electricity through coal would offset 15 percent of the supply gap left by Russian natural gas.
The downside would be climate damage: such a move alone would trigger a 5 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity and heating sector.
“We show that diversification in natural gas supply, and especially LNG imports, have stabilised Europe’s gas supply,” Gabrielli says.
“But Europe must learn its lesson from this energy crisis, namely that it is dangerous to be dependent on foreign countries for its energy supply. Switching to a different foreign supplier merely shifts the dependency.”
To avoid damaging the climate and simply forging new dependencies, the researchers recommend channelling the current momentum into investing in domestic energy supply, expanding renewable technologies, pursuing electrification efforts, and ensuring electricity trading across Europe.
Source: ETH Zurich