THE BLOG
05/01/2014 06:39 pm ET Updated Jun 29, 2014

Ukraine's Real Wake-Up Call: It Is Time to Invest in Renewables

According to Secretary of State John Kerry, events in Ukraine are a wake-up call for the transatlantic allies; they should lead to three policy consequences: fast completion of TAPP; an increase in the Allies' defense spending to 2 percent of GNP; the end of European energy dependence on Russia.

Yet, such propositions are nice to say, not easy to do, unless the US changes its (energy) paradigm, too.

TAPP, like anything EU, will basically be on hold until the end of the EU lame duck: the EU Parliament elections will take place on May 25, to reconvene in July. Then, the EU Parliament and the EU heads of government will have to appoint the new EU Commission, hereby including the its new president and the high representative. A new EU president will also have to be named. By the time all this will be over, we will have a partially renewed US Congress, too.

Raising defense expenditure equals to political suicide in Europe nowadays. EU citizens are weary of military spending; decisions like purchasing of new F35 planes are no-no for the European electorate and leaders are trying to hide them with any possible budgetary tricks. European governments are in fact cutting on policies, such as health and education -- that are at the very heart of European societies -- and doing so while rising defense spending would call for social revolts.

As for energy, Europeans are remarkably good at keeping energy consumption steady, as opposed to growing demands in the rest of the world. However, according to Eurostat, the EU produces only 48% of the energy it consumes, the main energy producers being the UK (oil and gas), France (nuclear), Denmark (coal, nuclear, renewables), Poland (coal), Netherlands (gas). Yet, of all the EU countries, only Denmark is a net exporter of energy and most of the EU countries need to import more than half of their energy supplies.

In particular, Europeans import 33% of their oil and 34% of their gas from Russia. Some of the most depending countries already pulled theirs strings to comply with sanctions against Iran, where recent openings could be harmed by the Russian crises.

It is therefore unclear how Europeans could cut implement Kerry's ideas without risking an aggravation of the economic crises and domestic political crises.

If the US government is really serious about helping the Europeans be more independent energy-wise and invest more in defense, it thus has to first change its energy policy and start investing in renewable energy.

The EU production of renewables roughly tripled in 20 years, with an average of 18% and a peak of 68% in Austria. In 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed -- in the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation -- that by mid-century close to 80% of the world's energy supplies could be met by renewables (bioenergy, solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy, wind energy). However, a substantial increase of renewables is still technically and politically very challenging thus it is not the availability of resources, rather public policies, that will either expand or constrain renewable energy developments. More advanced technologies are needed to decrease the costs of production and to optimize infrastructure capacity for renewables. Such advancements will only happen if the US will substantially invest in research in renewables, joining forces and sharing information with the Europeans.

Only this way, with decreased energy costs helping economy recovery and energy independence changing geopolitics, the Europeans will be able to finally take responsibility for their own defense and for its costs.

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