If You Want to Be Truly Pessimistic about the Ukraine Crisis’s Geopolitical Consequences …

by Henry on March 3, 2014

You may want to not just focus on the obvious questions. My gloomy prediction: it’s going to transform Europe’s debate about energy, in a largely negative direction. The current battle between environmentalists and business interests about how to deal with global warming is already heavily lopsided in favor of the business interests. Very shortly, it’s going to be a three way battle between (1) environmentalists, (2) business interests, and (3) people arguing that European security requires energy independence (many of (3) being funded by (2), which doesn’t mean that they don’t have a point). Efforts to find a quick and dirty way of escaping dependence on Russian gas are likely to focus on fracking as the obvious low cost alternative, and will ditch regulations that get in the way of hydraulic fracturing a-go-go. This, in turn, will create new and powerful business interests who have an interest in keeping the fossil fuel racket going as long as possible. Which means that Europe will scuttle backwards even more quickly from its global commitments, and from any process that might oblige it to make new ones. And then, basically, goodbye to any hope of tackling global warming in this generation or the the next, since Europe is the only major global actor plausibly willing to push for action.

There may be plausible counter-arguments to this (obviously – I’m not an energy economist). It could be, for example, that renewables can be scaled up quickly and easily enough to provide an alternative source of energy security. It could be that there’s some basic logical or factual flaw in my argument (wouldn’t be the first time). I’d really, really love to be wrong on this. But at the moment, I’m not seeing how.

{ 41 comments }

1

JW Mason 03.03.14 at 5:12 pm

Nuclear. Got to be.

2

P O'Neill 03.03.14 at 5:22 pm

Overall I agree but there is one mitigating factor (at least mitigating if the alternative is coal or nuclear). They must be splitting their sides laughing in Qatar today because the obvious near-term replacement for Gazprom given how much of Europe is already geared to gas is LNG and the whole Qatar strategy is geared to delivery of LNG anywhere in the world. Now of course you need specialized terminals but they can be built in less than a year if the money is there. As long as you can get the LNG ships into the Black Sea (and I gather from teh Google that there might be some issues there), you could have Ukraine ready for next winter and there’s a fair bit of LNG infrastructure already in the Mediterranean along with pipelines (Algeria). Nonetheless to replace Russian gas is a long-term agenda and the environmental aspects are not great, but it’s not quite restarting the dark satanic mills yet.

3

Dan 03.03.14 at 5:23 pm

Reluctantly have to agree. Nuclear. No other way. As an Australian Greens member for 15 years I’m sad to say – Die Gruenen will have to wake up to it and work to keep it as safe and clean as possible. Can’t see another way out that’s realistic.

4

Joshua Holmes 03.03.14 at 5:23 pm

That’s nowhere near pessimistic enough:

1. Europe produces just 15% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
2. Europe’s CO2 controls were already being weakened.
3. Even if the controls were maintained, the effect on global CO2 emissions would have been quite modest, maybe 1 billion tons a year total (out of 35+).
4. Every lump of coal not burned by Europe makes it cheaper for India and China to build more coal plants, which they’re still doing about as fast as humanly possible.

Avoiding a disaster requires a revolution either in energy technology or global consciousness. Looking at the Fertile Crescent, Sherwood Forest, and whale oil, my hopes are on energy tech.

5

tjamesjones 03.03.14 at 5:36 pm

If the crisis drives European states towards cheaper fuel as in the US, that seems a good thing to me! Better Gas than Coal right? Much lower emissions. And better not to be dependent on Russia.

6

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 03.03.14 at 5:44 pm

What is there to be pessimistic about?

With top experts like Eliot A. Cohen on the case, all the problems will be resolved successfully.

Just as in Irakeystan.
~

7

SamChevre 03.03.14 at 6:02 pm

At least here in the US, cheap natural gas (from fracking) has reduced carbon emissions–it’s very hard for coal to compete. And with the greater penetration of diesel cars and the denser population, I could imagine cheap natural gas driving a shift to natural gas and away from oil for transport power, which would also help.

If you think the end-state would get to mostly renewables, this future is worse; if the end-state of “mostly non-biomass renewables” was never attainable (my view), anyhting that moves away from coal and toward natural gas is an improvement.

8

hix 03.03.14 at 6:03 pm

If we take the British nuclear subsidy system as baseline, renewables are a lot faster and cheaper. Fracked wells deplete fast, not many sunk costs and thus path dependency there. LNG terminals are more for the long run but still cant really see any move towards dirtier energy there. With regards to heating, the major use of natural gas, the cheapest substitute are heat pumps. Those are quite good from an environmental pov if there arent too many old coal powerplants on the grid.

9

Brett 03.03.14 at 6:25 pm

There already is a pretty hefty coal lobby and industry in most European countries. I’d rather they were using natural gas for power, even if it’s still not as good in environmental terms as renewables. So, bring on the fracking, at least if the people in question allow it (France banned it completely IIRC).

10

Glen Tomkins 03.03.14 at 6:26 pm

Don’t forget about Keystone XL and Canadian natural gas extraction. European independence from Russian natural gas, via export of Canadian supplies, will be the new rationale for Keystone to go forward.

11

Tangurena 03.03.14 at 6:32 pm

LNG terminals take 3 years to build. I understand that the Lithuanian terminal will be finished this year. The Croatian terminal (in the Adriatic) keeps getting put on hold and isn’t likely to be finished before 2017.

12

TM 03.03.14 at 6:37 pm

“a three way battle between (1) environmentalists, (2) business interests, and (3) people arguing that European security requires energy independence”

The prescriptions offered by environmentalists – energy conservation and investment in wind and solar – are far more likely to help secure energy independence than fracking and such BS. If the debate were driven by facts and rationality, there would be no question about that. Also, cheap energy, especially gas, is bad news for energy independence.

13

john c. halasz 03.03.14 at 8:22 pm

I’m surprised how many CTers fall for the carefully promoted myth of natural gas. While it’s true that at the front end gas is cleaner burning than oil or coal, at the back end, anything over 3% methane leakage is worse than coal. (And methane is 70 times more potent than CO2 over a 20 year horizon, which is the actually relevant one for AGW). The recent U.S. study found that atmospheric methane was 50% higher than official EPA estimates, (and that was using 2008 data, before the fracking boom; it’s currently being recalculated with 2012 data). Of course, the other big source of human induced methane, after fossil fuels, is cow farts.

As for nuclear, not only with full energy accounting is that not “carbon free”, in addition to all its other environmental problems, the lead times and likely cost over-runs for nuke construction make it an unlikely and belated response to the AGW crisis.

14

Chaz 03.03.14 at 8:27 pm

Electricity’s not a big deal. They’ll just reactivate old coal plants (groan). I read somewhere recently that Germany has switched a lot of generation back to coal as Russia has jacked up natural gas prices. The problem is heating. Probably the best option is heat pumps as hix said, along with better insulation and sealing. But most households are set up for gas heating and I doubt they’ll switch over quickly (I take it for granted that most countries will not provide any really good government assistance and organization programs for this, even though they should).

So yeah, maybe some blabber about fracking. Probably a lot more oil and gas imports from the Middle East than fracking though. But really, they’re just going to keep buying the stuff from Russia. Russia can’t cut Europe off; half their state budget comes from oil and gas. And they’re going to ship it through Ukraine. Both sides are going to lean on Ukraine to accomplish this. They are also able to bypass Ukraine to a limited extent though and that will go smoothly.

For Ukraine itself, if Russia does go all out and block up their gas supply (while shipping to Europe through their limited other lines), they can always reimport Russian gas from Germany through Slovakia. Real problem there will be ability to pay and possible German/EU hoarding of the gas if it is in short supply, or to appease Russia.

15

PlutoniumKun 03.03.14 at 8:39 pm

I actually think its good news. Fracking gets a lot of attention, but there are a number of key issues with it:

1. There seems to be a lot less trackable shale in Europe than everyone thought. Poland has been a big wash-out. There are huge technical and political issues elsewhere (including the UK). There is no guarantee whatever that even if the fracking industry was given the all-clear that it would be able to develop large scale gas production to compete with LNG from the middle east (which is the other alternative to Russian gas). It should be noted that a massive new infrastructure would be required for tracking (for various reasons too complicated to go into in a post like this, there is limited scope to use the existing gas network). A scaling up of LNG imports would almost certainly be a quicker and cheaper option to provide security against a blockade of Russian gas.

2. Nuclear in Europe is a dead letter. Nothing to do with environmental issues – the EPR (European Gen III Reactor) is a disaster, it is far too costly, which is why even France isn’t committing itself. Its hard to see Europe committing itself to the only real alternative, which is the US AP1000 (a better design than the EPR, but essentially unproven economically). Gen IV reactors such as molten salt or pebble bed reactors are years away from commercial development (Germany essentially sold its pebble bed reactor programme to South Africa, which then sold it to China, who now have decided they can’t make it work).

3. Clean coal (essentially gasification with carbon capture) is very politically attractive, especially to the Germans, but is very, very expensive. There seems little possibility of it being a real alternative unless there are some major breakthroughs soon. It is probably 20 or 30 years away from being able to compete economically.

4. Another ‘dirty’ option includes coal seam gasification (even worse environmentally than fracking, but potentially very attractive to Germany which has massive potential) and a variety of other potential recovery techniques for low grade fossil fuel reserves. But these are likely to be very expensive.

5. Desert tec. This is a proposal to use the vast solar reserves of the Sahara using DC lines across the Med to connect to the European network. Its actually quite feasible economically and probably stacks up well cost-wise to nuclear (at least for southern Europe), but is potentially strategically vulnerable for the obvious reason it depends on cooperation with North African states. But probably no more uncertain than depending on Russian or Mid Eastern gas.

6. Renewables. Expensive, but genuinely ‘independent’. The cost profiles are going the right way (reducing year on year at a spectacular rate), and there have been some major breakthroughs recently. The primary problem is that there simply isn’t enough to provide enough energy for the entire continent all year round. Realistically, energy use would have to be cut in half or more to make it remotely feasible. However, it is quite economically and technically feasible to produce enough to tide the continent through in the event of some sort of political issue cutting off all imports of gas/oil, at least for a time. It should be noted that renewables are already providing a significant local and regional benefits in taking pressure off gas supplies – in the past few weeks the main gas supplier in Ireland admitted that the very windy winter significantly reduced Irelands dependence on expensive imports (about 25% or Irelands electricity was produced by wind alone in December/January).

So investment in large scale renewables can be justified for geopolitical and strategic issues alone. They are not a ‘sole’ solution, mainly because there just isn’t enough to provide all of Europes needs. But there is certainly enough wind and solar potential even within the next five to 10 years (very short term by energy planning standards) to produce enough wind and solar power at an economic price which would allow Europe to survive a cut off of gas for a few months anyway, especially if sufficient gas storage was included in any investment programme.

It should be pointed out that some of the biggest breakthroughs recently in renewables technology have been driven by the US military. Not because they are such wonderful environmentalists, but because one of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan is that the achilles heel of modern armies is energy supplies. Renewables have the be merit of being (in many cases) locally derived and benefit from more secure decentralised supply networks, making them less vulnerable to disruption.

16

The Raven 03.03.14 at 8:45 pm

Hi! Meet the game timer!

17

Igor Belanov 03.03.14 at 9:37 pm

Surely it’s preferable to reduce dependence on the chronically unstable Middle East and its oil & gas rich dictatorships than to be using energy as an issue to punish Russia over the present crisis?

Or do both?

18

hix 03.03.14 at 9:54 pm

There are more than enough middle eastern countries that do better than Russia based on those criteria. So potential diversification away from Russia is good and independence even better, no?

19

Omega Centauri 03.03.14 at 11:21 pm

I’m on the same page as TM. There have been some great technical (cost) improvements in renewables, and storage seems to be coming along. More expensive (even if its only a theoretical only risk premium) only makes renewables look like a better financial deal.

I don’t really see a natural cap to achievable renewable either. Land based wind probably has some limits, as the better or even feasible sites get used up (although repowering with the latest and greatest can harvest more wind). There is plenty of land for solar, but seasonality could be an issue.

We need to move heating from nat-gas to heat pumps anyway, similarly switching transport to nat-gas is a bridge to nowhere we want to go. The endpoint for both sectors is electrical (EV-transport/heat-pumps), maybe supplemented with some biofuels.

As John Halasz states, as currently practiced nat-gas doesn’t really help the climate, although if you take a long enough time horizon the leakage becomes almost a non-issue. But at least in terms of out kids lifetimes, it is a false solution.

20

Matt 03.03.14 at 11:43 pm

I’m surprised how many CTers fall for the carefully promoted myth of natural gas. While it’s true that at the front end gas is cleaner burning than oil or coal, at the back end, anything over 3% methane leakage is worse than coal. (And methane is 70 times more potent than CO2 over a 20 year horizon, which is the actually relevant one for AGW). The recent U.S. study found that atmospheric methane was 50% higher than official EPA estimates, (and that was using 2008 data, before the fracking boom; it’s currently being recalculated with 2012 data). Of course, the other big source of human induced methane, after fossil fuels, is cow farts.

Anything higher than 3% is worse over a 20 year horizon. Using a 100 year horizon, directly venting 100% of methane to the atmosphere is only modestly worse for AGW than burning part of it first, and with a 500 year horizon the difference is negligible. With the longer term horizons it is basically impossible to do worse with natural gas than with coal, assuming both are being burned for electricity or heating buildings. The IPCC focuses on effects up to the end of this century, but without active CO2 removal from the atmosphere, the climate is going to be altered for thousands of years into the future even if humans ceased emissions today.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Long-Thaw-Changing-Essentials/dp/0691148112

It makes sense to focus on the near term if you believe there is actually a chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, i.e. drastically slashing emissions in the next 15 years. Looking at the state of policy 15 years ago and today, I’d say “not a chance.” But that’s no reason to become apathetic. 450 ppm atmospheric CO2 is terrible, 500 ppm is even worse. I think that the likely outcome of getting people to accept “natural gas is worse for the climate than coal (in the short term)” would be more to entrench the coal status quo, which is worse in the long term, than to reduce overall fossil fuel emissions.

I don’t like to focus on nuclear power in the context of AGW discussions, both because that ends up occupying the rest of the thread (usually) and because Western nuclear builds in the past 10 years have proven slow and costly while renewables are meeting schedules and costs keep falling. But it is very painful to see already-built reactors shut down early and partially replaced with fossil fuels, as has happened in Germany and is happening in the United States. It is not true — as some conservatives crow — that’s Germany’s expensive Energiewende has actually led to higher emissions. It is true, unfortunately, that early reactor shutdown has erased most of the emissions improvements that Germany reaped from renewables.

Oh, one last question/comment: I know that Poland has complained about Germany using their transmission infrastructure to move renewable electricity between Germany’s southern and northern locations. Why can’t Polish electricity users buy some of that clean, cheap electricity for their own use on the spot market during times when Germany is producing a surplus, instead of Polish infrastructure just moving it from one part of Germany to another? Is it because Polish state-owned electricity companies don’t want the competition?

21

Omega Centauri 03.04.14 at 2:15 am

A tricky thing about natural gas leakage, is that much of it is from old distribution networks. I’d be willing to bet, this leakage isn’t affected much (or at all) by the rate of consumption, but simply by the extent and age of the pipeline system. So trying to reduce methane emisions by for example superinsulating existing housing isn’t going to help much.

22

john c. halasz 03.04.14 at 2:25 am

@20:

The “forcing” from NG over 20 years is the relevant criterion, since, especially if NG use is maintained or even increased, it will be acting to accelerate AGW processes, and thus the probability of re-enforcing AGW feed-back loops and potential runaway quasi-natural processes. (BTW we don’t actually know the level of methane leakage, because, under the prevailing neo-liberal paradigm, scientific research is increasingly privatized, even if it remains under ostensible public provenance and the required research simply isn’t done). For that matter, even the proclaimed goal of restricting AGW to 2 degrees C. already puts us into the potential danger zone of unpredictable feed-back accelerations by several dimensions and measures.

It doesn’t matter what happens 100 years from now, if we don’t reduce “forcings” now and significantly within the next 20 years, (even as we are already 15-20 years behind the curve), since the damages will already have incalculably been done and become irreparable.

And your comment about NG vs. coal is silly, as if no one can entertain two ideas in their head at the same time. Coal is obviously the cheapest alternative in EROEI terms and perfectly plentiful for a long time to come. But just because it’s the worst villain, that doesn’t make oil and gas Dudley Do-right.

23

john c. halasz 03.04.14 at 2:29 am

@21:

Right. New infrastructure might reduce leakage, but where gas is most readily usable, it involves old (cast-iron) piping, which is leaky as hell. And fully replacing such infrastructure, (in which leakage is completely ignored, unless there’s a dangerous build-up), should be added to the real costs of such usage. (I.e. investment could be much better directed).

24

Matt 03.04.14 at 3:10 am

@22: The short term forcings of methane vs. CO2 would be quite relevant if the world were on track to stabilize atmospheric CO2 in a couple of decades, and only rarer greenhouse gases were in danger of pushing us into the danger zone. But it’s not on track and I would wager my house that we will be deep into the danger zone before I reach retirement age.

The EU has laughably underpriced carbon credits, Japan has basically abandoned its emissions goals for 2020, Australia is going to get rid of the carbon tax and maybe the renewable energy target, we’re not sure the EPA will retain the authority to reign in even the most egregious CO2 emitters in the US, China never committed to any CO2 reductions in the first place and is emitting more than USA and EU combined, and India would be growing its emissions to the same vast scale as China if it were sufficiently organized. Only the graces of corruption and incompetence have kept India from competing with China for World’s Fastest Growing Emissions title. In this context I believe that anything that slows the increase of radiative forcing within a 100 year planning horizon is an improvement, since we’re going to miss the 20 year targets anyway.

Saying that nothing matters after we blow past the safety margins is both untrue and counterproductive. There is no point where humans can’t continue to make future climate change even worse with their choices, or contrariwise to spare a few more victims with better choices. Even if it’s just a matter of how long it takes the great ice sheets to completely break up and melt, rather than a matter of preventing such drastic changes, greater forcing will still hurt more people and is still worth fighting. But once the radiative forcing is high enough to trigger large natural feedback loops, the planning horizon needs to be adjusted for the long term, because there will be no reversal or stasis in the short term. Further, if you are sure that we’re going to go past natural tipping points (and I am sure, though I would love to be be wrong), it makes sense to already start thinking about the next few centuries instead of the next few decades, because drastic and long term consequences are already assured.

25

Bruce Wilder 03.04.14 at 3:18 am

Human beings are never likely to switch their focus to the very long-term, regardless of what happens. A real pessimist would suggest that panic, though, becomes a policy option, when climate change appears to accelerate and/or when some salient climate or extreme weather events occur. I hate to think what the panic options might be.

26

Omega Centauri 03.04.14 at 5:10 am

A far as I can tell (I do follow realclimate pretty closely), these dangerous feedbacks are not strong enough to set of a self-re-enforcing runaway. What they do is increase the climate sensitivity to CO2 (or other unnatural forcing). And many of these are going to be pretty slow actors. The biggies I think are arctic/subarctic permafrost carbon stores (which might also entail significant methane emissions), and albedo changes in the arctic region due to less snow, land ice, and sea ice -plus vegetation changes. The land ice changes will take centuries to be fully realized. So like Matt I consider that what happens in 100 or 200 years to be just as relevant morally as what happens in twenty. To care more about what happens to the people twenty years from now (the people I know), more than people 200years from now, to me smacks of a sort of ego-arrogance, just because I will never know these people (or if any even will exist), doesn’t give me the moral right to discount their wellbeing.

27

john c. halasz 03.04.14 at 5:26 am

@26:

I think physically relevant might trump morally relevant here, given available planning horizons. (It’s been just 250 years since the first stirrings of the industrial revolution in England, Scotland, and Belgium). Methane is a complex issue, since there are “sinks” as well as “forcings”, but IIRC Real Climate responded to both the U.S. and Artic studies by saying, well, it’s not an order of magnitude difference, maybe just 5% of the total each, and the good news is that the U.S. result is something we can do something about.

28

john c. halasz 03.04.14 at 5:31 am

And BTW there is a considerable “precautionary principle” here, (which translated economically, amounts to insurance value): our climate models are highly stochastic and incomplete, which means that small variations in assumptions can have large variations in results.

29

derrida derider 03.04.14 at 5:41 am

For those who think the answer for the Ukraine is Qatari LNG, well there’s a reason LNG terminals get built well away from towns. The Turks are unlikely to permit a stream of LNG supertankers to cruise past Istanbul – even Suez and Gilbraltar are questionable.

But yes, fracking means cheap local gas. Experience where gas is cheap is that it does substitute much more for coal than for other sources, so you should get a large net reduction in CO2 emission. That aint to say fracking can’t have local environmental issues (though far less than coal does), and you need to deal with those, but they are very manageable in comparison with the global CO2 story.

True, fracking wells quickly dry up – but that’s just because they can’t suck gas from a whole basin like a conventional well. It just means you need to keep drilling lots of new wells; invest in drilling rig providers is my advice.

30

PlutoniumKun 03.04.14 at 8:17 am

@derrida derider – you are making an assumption that fracking gas is ‘cheap’. This is simply not the case for most reserves (the exception may be where the reserves overlie an existing infrastructure which can be piggy-backed – this is rarely the case). Fracking wells is very expensive, and the infrastructure requirements are significantly higher than conventional gas (essentially because the gas flow is less controllable). The low gas prices in the US are because of a glut of gas, not because production costs have lowered. The glut is at least as much due to high petrol prices (gas from semi-depleted oil wells is essentially a waste product, and huge quantities are produced when high oil prices encourages the ‘working’ of older wells).

The actual economics are not well known, simply because the companies involved don’t tell us much. But it is a reality that the major frack companies are not particularly profitable, and the major oil and gas companies have been noticeably reluctant to invest too much in the technology, preferring instead to focus on off-shore.

It may well be of course that the costs can be reduced significantly in the future, but it is quite a mature technology and there is no guarantee of that. Until the costs are firmly known, it is simply not correct to make assumptions about its costs vs the alternatives (including LNG).

31

Pete 03.04.14 at 1:42 pm

I’m just going to agree with PlutoniumKun here. @15 is an extremely good post on the tech fundamentals. Renewables are arriving with minimum fuss, and the economics just look better every day. On the other hand, any solution is going to be “yes, and ..”: we’re not going to get rid of gas or even coal consumption in the near future.

There’s the opportunity for schadenfreude as people who campaigned against wind farms suddenly find fracking derricks, gas flares and miles of pipeline turning up in their garden instead.

However, the bad news is that the immigration and population question is only going to get nastier. Every person who arrives requires another N cubic meters of gas, kWh electricity, food imports etc. The option of pushing people out of the airlock of Spaceship Earth is going to be muttered about.

32

Sasha Clarkson 03.04.14 at 2:29 pm

Electricity storage is getting better by the day. The UK could invest in either the Severn Barrage, or tidal stream energy: a far better long term investment than f-fracking, but it would have to be a publicly backed project. For the medium term , here in Pembrokeshire we do have a new LPG terminal, and power station under construction. Not everyone likes it, but it, but it’s a far better prospect than the orimulsion one being proposed a few years ago.

Dependence on any potential troublespot for long distance energy gives hostages to fortune. Many more of us could use solar panels and mini wind-turbines. Necessity will have to be the mother of invention if we want to survive.

33

TM 03.04.14 at 2:35 pm

“There’s the opportunity for schadenfreude as people who campaigned against wind farms suddenly find fracking derricks, gas flares and miles of pipeline turning up in their garden instead.”

Apparently, Britain’s biggest conservation organization has a director who opposes wind farms under any circumstances but has an “open mind” about fracking.
See: http://www.monbiot.com/2013/10/24/breach-of-trust/

34

teraz kurwa my 03.04.14 at 3:08 pm

Poland has an LNG terminal under construction that’s currently scheduled to come on line late this year. It will have the capacity to handle the equivalent of one third of Poland’s natural gas needs. Currently about half of Poland’s NG comes from Russia, one third from domestic sources and one sixth from elsewhere. On the other hand, Poland’s hope for a domestic fracking boom are not being realized. The energy companies are having a much harder time finding economically viable gas than they thought they would and many have been giving up. There are also plans for nuclear power, but as everybody has pointed out, nuclear power is extremely expensive and it is far from certain the Poles will actually build any nuclear plants . And then there’s coal, which the Poles rely on quite heavily and are rather reluctant to phase out.

35

SageWithAge 03.04.14 at 5:07 pm

The brevity of the blog and the longevity of the follow-on commentary (most of which reflects factions, rather than the global framework of the brief-blog (aka BriefBlob) offers the amusement required to mitigate the seriousness of the situation. Does it not occur to anyone that a thug who has “upstream” controls on natural resources would have thought of the current situation already? Or that the same thug will have the central Asian republics next, whose resources are more valuable and which are further from EU geographically but all the more vital, economically? This is a case of pure cognitive dissonance on the EU’s part and, of course, the EU response is drop-dead feeble. As for the alternative fuel? Yes, it is time to practice that age-old risk-management principle of “diversification”. As prices rise, more sources will become feasible suppliers. As for the carbon-thing, the only reason Europe reduced its emissions, is that they outsourced their work to other countries.

36

John Quiggin 03.05.14 at 9:07 am

As regards nuclear, the only relevant policy lever is the German option to reverse the decision to phase out existing plants. Building new plants would take a decade or more, and would cost more than renewables supplemented by storage.

37

John Quiggin 03.05.14 at 9:16 am

Opening up exports of US LNG to the EU seems the most likely geopolitical response. Unclear how long it would take to actually happen, but it can be announced immediately and the damage to Russia (lower European gas prices and less strategic influence) would be permanent, and the EU would have no reason to object.

On the whole, it looks like a good thing for climate. The US is more promising for expansion of renewables than Europe, so exports of gas are likely to displace European coal, while promoting US renewables.

38

TM 03.05.14 at 3:11 pm

JQ, cheap gas has reputedly displaced some coal in the US. Why wouldn’t exporting gas to Europe just bring back the coal? My speculation may be no better than yours but fundamentally, anything that makes fossil fuels cheaper is bad for climate, and vice versa.

39

Omega Centauri 03.05.14 at 6:58 pm

LNG, consumes substantial energy in liquifaction and transport. That is one reason it is fairly pricey. I don’t know how the leakage compares to the general leakage of non liquified NG, I think that may be dominated by the distribution network.

40

Marcos 03.05.14 at 7:56 pm

John @37
New liquefaction plants in the US would likely take 3 years minimum, 5 max to be built, considering the long list of outstanding projects and the current speed at which cheniere is building it’s units (the only one effectively under construction due startup next year).
No lack of potential capacity, some reasonable uncertainty in price and long term economics.

41

Marcos 03.05.14 at 7:59 pm

Omega centauri@39
Consumption in liquefaction is atound 15%, and is definitively not the main reason affecting LNG pricing. It’s more generally linked to end-user market dynamics.

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