Auke appears on screen with his face bent over a computer screen. “Are you also so addicted to the news these days?” he asks without looking up. Auke follows the developments in Ukraine from his office: “It’s horrific what’s happening there. It’s good that Europe is now coming up with a plan to be less dependent on Russian oil, gas and coal.”
Europe wants to speed up the transition to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biogas, and also wants to use these to generate green hydrogen. Heads of government are calling for people to conserve more energy, new contracts outside of Russia and they also want to build up more gas reserves. At present, 44 percent of Europe’s total gas imports come from Russia. This amounts to more than 150 billion cubic meters annually. The package of measures taken by the European Union should ensure that 100 billion cubic meters less gas will have to come from Russia within one year.
Auke begins to nod, the first thing we should start with is turning the thermostat down a degree or two. “Put on an extra sweater, grab a blanket for all I care. According to an analysis by the IEA, this saves about 10 billion cubic meters of gas across Europe for every degree we turn the heating down. This money would otherwise flow straight to the Russian state coffers. It’s easy for me to say because I don’t use gas for heating, but I know what I would do!”
Fly and drive less
Another way to make things more difficult for Putin is to drive and fly less, as 27 percent of the EU’s total oil imports now come from Russia. “By doing that, you actually kill two birds with one stone. Not only does it affect Russia, but it is also better for the climate. And if you have to drive, do it electrically as much as possible.”
In the previous instalment, Auke already advocated divesting ourselves of fossil fuels from Russia.
As a result of the sky-high energy prices at the moment, more attention is already being paid to good insulation of houses, offices and to cutting back on gas use in industry, Auke notes. Because this is also a way to reduce the need to import gas from Russia. “In a well-insulated house, you can save a lot on costs because it is harder for heat to escape. If we in the EU make more progress with this, we can get rid of gas even faster and we will need about 2 billion cubic meters less Russian gas in winter and then an additional 4 billion each year after that. The same goes for replacing central heating boilers with heat pumps.”
Still carrying on with coal (for now)
In addition to minimizing the use of Russian gas as much as possible, Auke thinks it’s a good idea not to close coal-fired power plants for the time being. When asked if there are any other options, he shrugs. “Let me know. No one has yet come up with a serious alternative to avoid relying on Russian gas. Yes, keeping coal-fired power stations open longer is bad for the climate. But it’s only a few years at the most, and the difference between coal and gas is also rather limited. And at the moment, I think it is a matter of greater urgency to stop Russia. It is an outright attack on democracy and there are so many victims in Ukraine. I think we should help the citizens there as much as we possibly can.”
“There are bound to be people who think that the climate is much more urgent even now. But I think that we will accomplish more if climate hawks and people who want to stop Putin join forces. We need to speed things up, and coal-fired power plants are something you will have to accept for a while, in my opinion. Now is not the time to protest against coal or nuclear power plants.”
Gas from Groningen as an alternative?
An alternative to Russian gas is out there in any event, according to Auke, he says very cautiously. “I know it is sensitive and I don’t want to make anyone angry. But there is still about 500 billion cubic meters of gas in the ground in Groningen. Why…”, in the middle of his sentence he turns to his computer screen, busily mumbling his calculations. Auke says it is not inconceivable that the price of gas will rise to €5 per cubic meter. That amounts to a revenue of about €2,500 billion.
“If we use part of the proceeds to generously compensate for any earthquake damage, why not extract it from the ground?” Auke wonders aloud. He starts doing some new calculations: “Suppose that by pumping gas, there are a hundred thousand houses with some minor damage, you set aside a sum of €10,000 for those. Another €100,000 for about 30 houses with more damage. And then another ten thousand houses that are very difficult to repair. That amount of compensation will cost a total of, let’s say, €1 million per home for severe damage. But this will really take a lot more working out than I am outlining right now.”
“We thought the revenue all together would be €20 billion. But there is a thousand times – yes really a thousand times – more in the ground. Surely it must be possible to talk about that? What’s more, European rules against the leakage of harmful substances before the gas reaches your kitchen are a lot stricter than in Russia and America. In other words, Groningen gas causes less in the way of climate change than Russian gas. A recent study shows that fossil energy (especially gas) releases about 70 percent more methane into the air than we first thought.”
Switching to sustainable alternatives
In order to further reduce dependence on Russian fuels, it is important to switch more quickly to sustainable alternatives. According to EU plans, extra wind energy could provide an additional annual reduction of 15 billion cubic meters of Russian gas over the short term. “Of course, this would be much more in the long run. Ultimately, wind can replace three times as much gas as we are currently importing from Russia,” Auke explains.
That is why government leaders want to relax permit applications for wind farms to encourage green energy. “It’s great that they’re finally taking action. But in the short term, we will not be helping Ukraine by doing this. It will take some time before the rules are changed. But the more wind turbines and solar parks we have, then the less Russian gas we need.”
Wind turbines in Herpt
For this reason, Auke decided to support a project in his own village of Herpt. Three large wind turbines about 750 meters from his self-sustainable home. At first, Auke wasn’t thrilled with the plan. After all, what about the noise? And what would it do to the house prices? “But what am I really whining about? Our house is very well insulated and we probably wouldn’t hear a thing. When I saw the news from Ukraine, I was converted. Now I’m making a case for the installation of these wind turbines. But I am not under the illusion that this will help the people in Ukraine any time soon. I hope that by that time we will already have gotten rid of the Russian gas. And that the conflict is all behind us.”
Then adamantly: “So, conserve energy for a few years now and don’t make a fuss about nuclear power, coal and more gas. At the same time, we must press ahead as quickly as possible with sustainability. Electric vehicles, for one thing. More wind energy at sea and on land, all the roofs full of solar panels and everyone on the heat pump or on a heat network. That is the real solution for the longer term. Not only against the dependence on fossil fuels and dictators, but also for the climate and our wallets. The sooner we get this done, the better!”
Read earlier instalments of Electric Auke here.