Presenting its “REPowerEU” plan on Wednesday, the European Commission said it would attempt to slash consumption of Russian gas across the bloc by 66% by the end of this year — and break its dependence completely before 2027 — by saving energy, finding alternate sources and speeding up the transition to renewables.
“We are taking our ambition yet to another level to make sure that we become independent of Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a Wednesday press briefing.
“When Europe acts together, it has more clout,” von der Leyen said of the joint procurement program. “This way we can secure energy imports we need without the competition between our member states.”
The plan also emphasizes energy-saving tactics as the “quickest and cheapest way” to address the crisis. Europe will encourage citizens and businesses to curtail their energy use — such as by switching off lights and using less air conditioning — and believes these steps could reduce its demand for oil and gas by 5% in the short term.
Longer term, the European Union will lift its target of having at least 40% of its energy coming from renewable sources to 45%. The bloc plans to cut down the amount of time it takes to get permits for new renewable energy projects.
Von der Leyen said that the package would “speedcharge” the bloc’s transition to renewables, and include plans to double the bloc’s capacity for solar power by 2025. The additional solar energy produced could replace the consumption of 9 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually by 2027, the Commission said in a press release.
It will double the rate of uptake of heat pumps — devices which funnel heat from the ground or air into buildings, and which can run on renewable energy.
The Commission has also set a target for the bloc to produce 10 million metric tons of renewable hydrogen, and import another 10 million metric tons by 2030 to help decarbonize some industries.
Much of the €210 billion ($221 billion) in new investments envisaged between now and 2027 would be financed by drawing on the EU coronavirus recovery fund.
Parts of the plan are proposals for legislation — which would require approval by EU member states — while others are recommendations.
In addition to the coal ban, EU countries are working on an oil embargo. The European Commission said more time was needed for landlocked states that rely heavily on Russian oil delivered via pipelines to find alternate supplies.
Hungary — which got about 40% of its oil imports from Russia last year, according to the International Energy Agency — has so far balked at signing on.
Wednesday’s plan set out how the bloc would respond if Russia turned off the taps completely. The Commission said it would work with member states to understand where demand for gas could be cut, and which countries could curtail their consumption for the benefit of others.
“Untying Europe from its largest energy supplier it is going to be difficult,” Kadri Simson, European commissioner for energy, said at a news conference. “But the economic benefits of ending our dependency will be much greater than the short-term cost of REPowerEU.”
— Robert North, Angela Dewan and Joseph Ataman contributed reporting.