The EU is well on its way to achieving its 2020 climate and energy goals. The targets – 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, 20 percent of EU energy from renewables, and 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency – were enacted in 2009 and highlight the bloc’s ambitious moves to combat climate change. Climate aside, the 2020 strategy also aims to reduce the financial and existential burdens associated with energy imports. Six years in however, the needle on energy dependence hasn’t budged.
Energy dependency reached 53.4 percent for the 28-member bloc in 2014, marking the eleventh consecutive year in which energy imports have accounted for the majority share of gross inland energy consumption. Overall dependence is down just over 1 percent since its peak in 2008, but remains above the 10-year average for the period beginning 2005.
Broken down by fuel, EU dependence on foreign gas, petroleum products, and solid fuels has never been higher at 67.2, 87.4, and 45.6 percent respectively. Gas import requirements are up 10 percent since 2005, and solid fuel imports are some 6 percent higher in the same period; petroleum product imports too have grown more than 5 percent.
Among the EU’s five largest consumers, France (46.1 percent) and Italy (75.9 percent) recorded their lowest energy dependency rates since 1990. One year removed from their peaks, Germany (61.4 percent) and the United Kingdom (45.5 percent) also saw reduced foreign dependence in 2014, though Germany remains a key driver of gas imports on the continent. Rounding out the top five, Spain (72.9 percent) actually saw its dependency rise, both overall and across all three fuels.
Now, for exporters, the dependency rates are a bit of fool’s gold when taken alone. Combined energy consumption of the 28 member nations has fallen to its lowest level in more than 20 years, down some 13 percent since its peak in 2006. The energy splits reveal similar trends for fossil fuels: coal consumption is back on the decline after the shale gas revolution briefly arrested its descent to start the decade; petroleum consumption is far below 1990 levels and falling; and natural gas consumption has plummeted more than 23 percent since 2010.
Of course, while the ceiling is gradually capped, the share of what lies beneath is slowly growing. OECD Europe oil production is expected to drop roughly 1 percent per year toward 2040, with North Sea production experiencing the heaviest declines. Gas production will fall more sharply – 25 percent below 2010 levels by 2020.
Moreover, renewable generation is not being added at a pace quick enough to meaningfully offset decays in traditional production. 2015 was a good year, but renewable investments have nosedived as policy costs, low CO2 prices, and medium-term risks force financiers to pursue safer returns in the US, China, or India.
As such – and with steady, if underwhelming, growth – import dependency will continue to rise. Further, traditional suppliers like Russia and Norway are unlikely to be significantly displaced. Opposition is growing to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but Gazprom is confident the project will proceed. In any case, Russian deliveries are likely to grow between 2 and 10 percent in the short- to medium-term. For its part, Norway believes demand signals point to an expansion of its promising Barents Sea operations. Newer entrants will look to take advantage of the mushrooming LNG demand, which could nearly double by 2020. In particular, Australia and the US appear set on capturing shares of the fresh market.
Energy dependence and energy security are not mutually exclusive. In this age of plenty, the EU has its fair share of reliable and politically reasonable options. Still, care will be necessary to ensure the bloc’s medium-term efficiency and decarbonization goals are not deferred.
First published at Oilprice.com