Europe’s Energy Crisis That Isn’t

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American critics chastise Europeans’ rejection of fossil fuels. But Europe is winning the bet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has led to a reassertion of national security concerns in every facet of Western countries’ policy. The most obvious aspect is military security, with the United States and the Europeans ramping up ammunition production and wrangling over tank deliveries. But as far as Europe is concerned, the even more urgent priority is energy security. As Russia’s natural gas supplies were cut off and prices surged to record levels, European governments have spent more on subsidizing the energy bills of their populations, stockpiling gas, and bailing out bankrupt energy companies than they have either on their militaries or on supporting Ukraine.

The emergency energy programs were short-term expedients. The urgent question now is which direction long-term energy security is to be found.

The crisis struck Europe in the midst of an accelerated energy transition away from fossil fuels, one driven by climate concerns and a program of green industrial policy. Since 2020, Europe has been doubling down on green energy policy, with the Next Generation EU investment program, the Fit for 55 energy transition framework, rising carbon emissions pricing, and a flood of national programs. Britain recently celebrated a day without any use of coal. Spain celebrated a day entirely on solar and wind. European utilities are driving sectors such as offshore wind. Costs for clean energy were falling, in part due to the parallel efforts being made by China in the cheap mass manufacture of solar panels. The European car industry was setting a course for electrification by the mid-2030s. European car producers and engineering companies saw not risk but huge opportunities in China, which is the dominant global force in electric vehicles.

Moscow’s aggression, on top of deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, has troubled this outlook. Indeed, some hawkish voices in the United States have gone so far as to suggest that the new geopolitical configuration puts the entire European vision of energy transition in question. They argue that the basic math in favor of fossil fuels is now triumphing over green ideology. History has pronounced its judgment against Europe’s naive and unrealistic ambitions for the renewable energy transition and in favor of fossil fuels as a key element of Western grand strategy and nuclear power as a carbon-neutral power source.

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.

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