(CN) — As autumn temperatures dropped across the European Union, so did natural gas consumption. Between August and November, the EU cut use of the fossil fuel by 20%, according to data published by Eurostat on Tuesday.
With the Russia-Ukraine war disrupting global fuel supplies, the EU set a voluntary goal of reducing energy consumption by 15% to avoid mandatory cuts.
Eighteen of the 27 nation states successfully cut more than 15% of energy consumption compared with average use over the last five years. Finland decreased overall energy use by 52%. Latvia, 43%, and Lithuania, 41%, also made significant cuts.
Six countries fell short of the 15% target. Malta and Slovakia energy use increased by 7% and 2%, respectively.
At the beginning of the year, the EU was importing more than a quarter of its crude oil from Russia, along with 46% of solid fuel and 40% of natural gas.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February led to a 30% cut in fuel exports, driving record inflation across the continent. Economic uncertainty grew as the EU was poised to leave the turmoil of the pandemic behind.
“The escalation of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine since February 2022 has led to gas supplies declining markedly, in a deliberate attempt to use gas supply as a political weapon,” the EU Council said in its regulation to reduce gas consumption passed this past August.
Anticipating the possibility of Russia cutting off all energy exports to the EU, the council recommended all member states reduce energy use in the months leading up to winter.
“The recent escalation of disruption of gas supply from Russia points to a significant risk that a complete halt of Russian gas supplies may materialize in the near future, in an abrupt and unilateral way,” the council wrote. “The union should therefore anticipate such a risk and prepare, in a spirit of solidarity, for the possibility of a full disruption of gas supply from Russia at any moment.”
Despite the EU's decadeslong efforts to switch to renewable energy, severing dependence on imported fuel remains a formidable challenge. The EU vowed to end dependence on Russian oil and gas by 2027, encompassed by the REPowerEU plan.
Besides phasing out Russian fossil fuels, the plan aims to diversify energy sources and increase clean energy including hydrogen and bio-methane production. The plan requires a 210 billion-euro ($223 billion) investment. Russian fuel imports cost European taxpayers an estimated 100 billion euros ($106 billion) each year.
A spring poll conducted by the EU found 85% of 26,000 Europeans supported increasing investment in renewable energy. A similar number of people wanted to stockpile gas to avoid winter shortages. Nine in ten polled supported energy planning being conducted as a European collective.
To ease the transition in the short term, the EU approved new hydrogen projects, supported solar and wind projects, and increased biomethane production.
To replace Russian energy, the EU must strengthen global ties. In addition to increasing LNG imports from the U.S., Canada and Norway, the collective hopes political agreements can increase supplies from Egypt and Israel. The EU is also looking to work with Azerbaijan, Algeria, Qatar and Australia and coordinate fuel purchases with markets in Japan, China and Korea.
Energy only makes up about 10% of EU household spending, with about 40% going to services and 20% to food, alcohol and tobacco. While energy consumption decreased across the EU in 2020, rising prices are likely to offset any reported savings.
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