Could the Russian war trigger a renewable energy revolution? It depends where in the world you look

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week argued for new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea in the name of energy security, and talks are underway in the UK and Germany to delay the closure of some power stations in the coal.
There is also increased pressure on the oil and gas-rich United States to produce more to send to Europe, and US President Joe Biden is trying to get Middle Eastern countries to produce more oil to help bring down exorbitant gasoline prices.
This is all bad news for the climate crisis – which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels – but these are short-term answers. There is also good reason to believe that the upheaval caused by the Russian war will accelerate the transition to clean energy in the long term.

While Johnson wrote about more drilling, he also wrote about doubling down on renewable energy, such as solar or wind power. A British government spokesman told CNN that a new energy strategy to be revealed next week will “boost” its renewables and nuclear capacity.

In Germany, which relies heavily on Russian gas, the government has advanced its deadline for a full transition to renewables in its power sector by at least five years to 2035.
But in the United States, the path to a clean energy transition has stalled in Congress.

“The war will energize Europe’s energy transition – most European leaders understand that fossil fuel diversification is a path to greater security,” said Nikos Tsafos, an energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to CNN in an email interview. “The response in the United States has been more bifurcated – some calling for more oil and gas production, others for more renewable energy investment.”

Ultimately, Europe and the United States are on a different footing with their own energy transitions. The European Union, for example, has an emissions target detailed in law and a roadmap to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030. The Biden administration has undertaken a number of executive actions and federal regulations to work toward the US goal of reducing emissions by 50-52. % of emissions by 2030. But its objective lacks legislative force.

“We have to walk and chew gum – dealing with short-term supply as families have to take their children to school, work, groceries and go about their business – and that often requires petrol “, a White House spokesperson told CNN. . “But in the long term, we need to accelerate – not slow – our transition to a clean energy future.”

The Westlands Solar Farm near Lemoore, California.

The EU roadmap has yet to be voted on, but it is supported by policies already underway. And many European countries have more developed clean energy infrastructure than the United States, which is just beginning to develop its offshore wind.

In 2020, the EU and UK had the capacity to generate around 49% of their electricity from renewables, nearly double the 25% of the US, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. . The EU and UK combined have about double the solar power capacity and wind capacity of the US, the agency reported.

“It’s clear that Europe has a game plan and the United States has a goal, which is not the same thing,” said John Larsen, partner of the nonpartisan group Rhodium.

The race for renewable energies

In an interview with the Washington Post, International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol said on Monday that he believed the current situation in Europe was the first real global energy crisis the world is facing. – and could shape global energy for years to come.

“It can be a turning point,” Birol said, noting that governments responded to the oil shortage of the 1970s by making cars more fuel-efficient and investing in nuclear power. “I’m also hopeful that when the first global energy crisis ends, countries, not just states, will come up with new energy policies that accelerate clean energy transitions.”

Europe is already moving in this direction.

“It’s amazing how quickly Europeans have moved,” said Sam Ori, executive director of the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. “They are rushing towards clean electricity.”

The Burbo Bank offshore wind farm in Liverpool Bay on the west coast of the UK.

The Biden administration has done several things on its own: propose new regulations on vehicle emissions and methane; give the green light to offshore wind projects as well as onshore renewable energies; and take executive action on industrial emissions.

Still, Biden hasn’t been able to push much of his clean energy and climate agenda through Congress so far, and experts say he doesn’t have much hope of getting through Congress. achieve its emissions targets without it.

Fact-checking: despite the claims of
A recent analysis by Princeton University showed that the clean energy provisions of Biden’s now scrapped Build Back Better Act would have prevented 1.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions from enter the atmosphere until 2035.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN on Wednesday that the current global energy crisis should prompt Congress to act as soon as possible.

“Now is the time for Congress to be able to act,” Granholm told CNN at a clean energy event on Wednesday. “There may be compromise. There may be movement on this. Ultimately, this is a time for this to happen; this is an urgent time.”

But there is no clear path in Congress to move the United States away from fossil fuels. Getting rid of Russian oil is something Democrats and Republicans can agree on; a bipartisan group recently came together to pass a bill banning imports of Russian oil into the United States.

This is where the harmony on energy ends.

Instead of just drilling for more oil and gas, Biden administration officials and many Democrats in Congress have long argued that passing billions in tax credits for electric vehicles and renewables is a key way to relieve the United States of its dependence on foreign oil, and will help protect the country against future gas price shocks.

Traffic moves along Interstate 80 in Berkeley, California.  As climate action in Congress stalls, the Biden administration has taken action on its own, including proposing new regulations on vehicle emissions.
Republicans, on the other hand, argue that now is the time to drill.
In the middle of both sides sits Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the swinging vote of Democrats on climate and clean energy legislation. Manchin has expressed support for Biden’s clean energy package, but he represents a coal state and wants more drilling and fossil fuel infrastructure built.
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Beyond the future of US clean energy legislation, other questions remain. Russia is also a major exporter of metals needed for electric vehicles and clean energy technologies, which could hamper the transition to electric vehicles.

The fate of Biden’s climate policy — and how quickly the United States can transition to clean energy — largely depends on Manchin’s vote. There’s still no real legislative package that’s been agreed upon, and Biden and congressional Democrats realistically have the spring and summer to push a Democrat-only bill through Congress before the election. midterms cannot upset the balance of power in Washington.

Larsen said that while market forces like high oil prices could push consumers away from gas-powered cars and toward electric vehicles, massive federal investments in electric vehicles and clean energy would still be needed. .

“If these higher prices last for a while, they will help make the case for the acceleration of the transition that we see with wind and solar, but it is not the same as political support for achieve that,” Larsen said. “Building back better and [clean energy] tax credits, all of that would bring in 10 times more than those high prices.”

CNN’s Angela Dewan contributed to this report.


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