The Commission releases its emergency plan to face a Russian gas cut-off

As pressure mounts on the EU to prepare for a potential cut-off of Russian gas supplies, the Commission has released its plan to face such an emergency. On 20 July, the Commission published its “Save Gas for a Safe Winter” Communication which outlined recommendations on how Member States can reduce their gas demand and reach a reduction of 15% of gas consumption in each country.

The recommendations entered on sectoral actions such as mandating reduced heating of public buildings, offices, commercial buildings and open spaces like outdoor terraces, where technically feasible and enforceable, or switching to alternative fuels in power and heat productions well as in industry, and activating demand side flexibility to reduce peak demand.

But the main tool the Commission is counting on to mitigate low gas supplies and face a potential full cut-off is the 15% of gas demand reduction. The Communication points to a Council Regulation, which would provide the legal basis for this tool.

Member States recently agreed on this new Council Regulation, which entails a voluntary reduction of gas demand of 15% for this winter. The main sticking point in this agreement is the addition of a crisis mechanism or “Union Alert” in case of immediate threats to our security of supply which would make the aforementioned demand reductions mandatory.

The alert would be activated by a Council implementing decision (thus, lying in the hands of Member States), acting on a proposal from the Commission to trigger a ‘Union alert’ in case of a substantial risk of a severe gas shortage or an exceptionally high gas demand, or if five or more member states that have declared an alert at national level request the Commission to do so. Many Member States are very much against this idea, arguing they shouldn’t be responsible for Germany’s self-imposed dependence on Russian imports, or that dependency on Russian gas varies greatly between countries and thus they should not have the same gas demand reduction target. This led to many exemptions to the ‘Union Alert’ for Member States:

  • that are not interconnected to other gas networks
  • whose electricity grids are not synchronised with the European electricity system and are heavily reliant on gas for electricity production
  • if they are heavily dependent on gas as a feedstock for critical industries
  • if their gas consumption has increased by at least 8% in the past year

It will then be up to the Member States to decide on which sectors would be forced to reduce gas demand, although the Council agreed to prioritise measures that do not affect households or essential services but rather acting on industry. This has already led to some lobbying at national level from industries that want to make sure they are not on top of this list.

While the Commission’s proposal was designed for a very cold winter and had the potential to cut the EU-27’s energy consumption by 45 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, the regulation adopted by Member States is estimated to allow for a reduction of 30 bcm. This is generally thought to be enough for a mild winter.

As the French government has called for “energy sobriety” to mitigate this energy crisis, EuropeOn member SERCE has decide to respond constructively by highlighting cost-effective ways that  building owners can reduce their energy and gas consumption.

SERCE highlights 4 main actions in industrial and other non-residential buildings:

  • Raising tenants and owners’ awareness, to reduce and monitor their energy consumption
  • Taking advantage of the principle of inertia in heating and electric appliances (e.g.: switching off heating one hour before leaving a building, using a computer on battery)
  • Promoting and optimising (predictive) maintenance to improve buildings’ performance and offer smart buildings services
  • Improve energy performance by installing automation and control systems with a ROI of < 6 years.

Download the infographic (in French).