The Russian request to the countries of the European Union for pay for natural gas in rubles rather than in dollars or euros it can lead to a cut in supplies. And the emotional wave related to military atrocities subject to accusations and recriminations in Ukraine has rekindled calls for a boycott of Russian gas, which European nations (not without distinction and disagreement) are trying to implement.
With extraordinary timeliness, just a week after the start of the conflict, theInternational Energy Agency (IEA) published a document called "How the EU can significantly reduce Russia's natural gas imports within a year". The 10-point plan it includes recommendations to replace Russian gas (which makes up nearly 40% of all natural gas consumed in the EU) with other energy sources.
Reduce Russian gas needs within a year?
First point of the IEA plan: to reduce consumption, "accelerate the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps". A request that did not fail to immediately activate an induced: the American one.
On March 9, just 8 days after the AIE plan, the non-profit organization Rewiring America issued a political plan calling on US manufacturers to help the EU without Russian gas rapidly expand its heat pump deployment. "We'd be fooling ourselves if we didn't take a wartime view of manufacturing," he says Ari Mutasiak, CEO of the organization.
Almost in unison, il The Washington Post he reported that the White House was seriously considering this suggestion. There is no denying: generous and diligent.
There is a fundamental flaw with this approach, however.
The IEA estimates that the extended use of heat pumps would only save 2 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year. Just 1,3% than what Russian gas supplies to the EU. If we believe in miracles, perhaps massive US aid will bring us double, perhaps triple the reduction. We are far below the amount that will make a difference for next winter, when the knots come to roost.
This explains well the demented question posed by Mario Draghi to the Italians in the press conference the other day: that "do you want peace or the air conditioners on"?
There are two hypotheses before us, both of which lead to a European half-disaster. In the coming weeks or months, Russia could follow through on its threats to cut natural gas supplies to Europe. Or, more likely, EU leaders could agree to a boycott of Russian gas.
What would really happen without Russian gas?
How could EU officials, engineers or individual homeowners prepare for such an eventuality?
The expert Vaclav smil, Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba in Canada, points out that there are huge structural impediments in solving an embargo on Russian natural gas.
European nations are looking for energy as a person in a respiratory crisis looks for air. They would like to try to generate as much electricity as possible using alternative fuels. The options on the table? So many. From getting ready to change fuel in central boilers used for district heating (which heats a quarter of the houses in the EU) to use portable electric stoves and not radiators.
The main strategy also according to the IEA, however, is to lower the thermostat.
Not exactly a foolproof plan
The IEA 10-point plan provides a temperature reduction of 1 ° C. A mantra then repeated in cascade by national politicians and by many VIPs who adhere a priori to media simplifications.
Unfortunately, things are very different.
The EU as a whole could theoretically save enough energy to replace all Russian gas imported only if people reduced the internal temperature of houses more drastically. How drastic? Very drastic. I'm talking about something like 8 ° or 9 ° C, which would be the amount needed (the IEA's own estimate says it) to save 10 billion cubic meters of gas. This requirement glosses over the differences in dependence on Russian gas between EU countries (and Italy, for example, is in terrible shape), but gives you an idea of how drastic the necessary temperature reductions would be.
It can be done?
No. Turning the heat down that much would be, let's put it this way, very difficult. The IEA indicates that average indoor temperatures in the EU are just 13 ° or 14 ° C (55 ° to 57 ° F).
Sure, most people could "technically" handle this difficulty in small spaces and with electrical devices. Ambient heaters. I said "technically", not "economically", though. And I'm not talking about shops or larger spaces, that would be another matter. But "technically" yes.
Now, given that without Russian gas the electric heater will be the cult object of next winter, the question is: could we produce enough stoves between now and next winter? We will see a similar productive effort to get more ventilators at the onset of the pandemic. On the other hand, at a guess (Smil estimate) 10 million room heaters are needed. A goal within our reach, even producing as many as we need and adding others in extremis, if necessary.
It would be a dramatic solution, but at least "European", if you think that in Germany Siemens would be at the forefront (it is already the largest industrial production company).
In other words
Rewiring America and the various EU energy policymakers spend their time persuading citizens that it's all about their behavior. Or exhibit enthusiasm and generosity (interested) for heat pumps, which would take years.
The truth is that the most realistic option for the coming winter and for the 450 million Europeans forced by the absurdity of war to face the cold: electric stove, and even at a low temperature.