International Energy Agency's Plan to Reduce Russian Gas Consumption Would Work Anywhere

It will also reduce carbon emissions and save money even if you don't burn Russian fossil fuels.

A picture of the Nordstream 2 pipeline
Empty Nord Stream 2 pipes in Germany.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The International Energy Agency (IEA) was set up by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1974 to ensure the security of oil supplies and has long been accused of an institutional bias against low-carbon technologies. It is hardly a hotbed of environmental activists. However, its new scheme—the 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas—will make a lot of activists happy, given that many of the points are similar to those the Insulate Britain types were getting jailed for. But then, this is now serious. According to the IEA, about 45% of Europe's gas comes from Russia, and the invasion of Ukraine changed everything.

According to the IEA:

“Nobody is under any illusions anymore. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon show Europe needs to act quickly to be ready to face considerable uncertainty over Russian gas supplies next winter,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The IEA’s 10-Point Plan provides practical steps to cut Europe’s reliance on Russian gas imports by over a third within a year while supporting the shift to clean energy in a secure and affordable way. Europe needs to rapidly reduce the dominant role of Russia in its energy markets and ramp up the alternatives as quickly as possible.”

But even in countries that do not rely on Russia for natural gas, following the 10-point plan would reduce demand and open up opportunities for supply Europe with alternative sources. And there is a neat little side effect: Burning less gas means lower carbon emissions, which is what we are here for.

10 point plan

International Energy Agency

The first three points deal directly with the European situation. So we can start with the fourth point.

Action 4: Accelerate the deployment of new wind and solar projects

The IEA calls for serious investment and fast-tracking for utility-scale wind and solar capacity, as well as faster deployment of rooftop solar PV.

Action 5: Maximize power generation from bioenergy and nuclear

This will be less controversial than previously thought. Even the Green Party in Germany is entertaining the idea of keeping the last few nuclear plants running a bit longer, although this may be difficult because of fuel supply problems. Bioenergy is also controversial: A Bioenergy website claims it provides 16% of domestic heating energy and 14% of energy for industry but almost 70% of it comes from burning wood.

Action 6: Shelter vulnerable electricity consumers from high prices

This point recognizes that all of these measures increase the costs of fuel, leading to big increases in profits for the companies supplying it. The IEA calls for taxing these profits to keep prices down, and adding a subsidy to reduce the shock.

Action 7: Speed up the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps

This is a new twist for the IEA. The heat pump revolution is a recent phenomenon, but everyone is jumping on board. As engineer Toby Cambray suggested, it may be "time to adjust our tactics in the great game of decarbonisation." It seems that many people and organizations already have.

Action 8: Accelerate energy efficiency improvements in buildings

Speeding up energy efficiency improvements in buildings and industry should go together with heat pumps, and the IEA notes it will save about the same amount of gas, about 2 billion cubic meters per year. A little bit of fluffy stuff, as Cambray calls insulation, and a lot of caulk can significantly reduce the size of the heat pumps and even the type of the refrigerant in the heat pump.

Action 9: Encourage a temporary thermostat reduction of 1 degree Celsius by consumers

According to the IEA: "The average temperature for buildings’ heating across the EU at present is above 22°C (71.6 Fahrenheit). Adjusting the thermostat for buildings heating would deliver immediate annual energy savings of around 10 bcm [billion cubic meters] for each degree of reduction while also bringing down energy bills."

The surprising things here are that the average temperature is so high and that a 1-degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) change would save so much gas—five times as much as heat pumps or insulation—because it can happen instantly. This is the talk of energy Twitter; I even called my sister in London to see what her thermostat is set at, and she told me it was at 17 degrees Celsius (62.6 degrees Fahrenheit), but noted that homes in the United Kingdom are poorly built and often have single-glazed windows, so having the U.K. out of the European Union probably raises the average temperature significantly.

Action 10: Step up efforts to diversify and decarbonise sources of power system flexibility

This requires fixing the grid, storage, and distribution systems. The IEA notes:

"Governments therefore need to step up efforts to develop and deploy workable, sustainable and cost-effective ways to manage the flexibility needs of EU power systems. A portfolio of options will be required, including enhanced grids, energy efficiency, increased electrification and demand-side response, dispatchable low emissions generation, and various large-scale and long-term energy storage technologies alongside short-term sources of flexibility such as batteries."

There's a lot to love about these proposals, most notably the head-spinning speed in which they were churned out. There are also lessons here in how the rest of the world can move fast to reduce gas and oil consumption in support of Europe and clean up our own acts. Coincidentally, it will also lower our carbon emissions.

In our recent post, Bill McKibben calls for a massive mobilization to send heat pumps to Europe—that looks more sensible by the minute. But he has been busy these days, also writing in The Guardian about how to defeat Putin and other petrostate autocrats. He is on a roll, so we will give him the last word:

"Now is the moment to remind ourselves that, in the last decade, scientists and engineers have dropped the cost of solar and windpower by an order of magnitude, to the point where it is some of the cheapest power on Earth. The best reason to deploy it immediately is to ward off the existential crisis that is climate change, and the second best is to stop the killing of nine million people annually who die from breathing in the particulates that fossil fuel combustion produces. But the third best reason – and perhaps the most plausible for rousing our leaders to action – is that it dramatically reduces the power of autocrats, dictators, and thugs."

This is why everyone, everywhere, should be looking at the IEA's 10-point plan: Its virtues are universal and deal with a lot more than just Russia.