Is Lithuania a model for Europe’s energy security?
On October 19, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU has managed to replace two-thirds of Russian gas imports by turning to other suppliers since last February. This reduction seemed unlikely a few months ago, when the invasion of Ukraine turned Moscow from a trading partner into a military threat to the EU. Then the continent’s energy security suddenly became an almost existential problem.
Eight months later, the EU has significantly reduced its energy dependence on Russia. However, there is still work to be done in the long term. Russia can learn from the experience of Lithuania, one of the members of the Union, to completely get rid of energy dependence. adapting to the complex geopolitical context to ensure its energy security.
The case of Lithuania indeed carries three main lessons.
Don’t give up on nuclear power
Lithuania’s path to energy independence has not been easy.
Before joining the EU on May 1, 2004, nuclear power was the first pillar of its energy mix: Vilnius produced 77% of its electricity this way. But the country had to shut down two reactors of the Ignalina NPP as a precondition for joining the Union, because the plant had the same technology as Chernobyl (RBMK).
Out of urgent necessity, nuclear energy was replaced by Russian natural gas and oil. In 2011, these two sources accounted for 75% of the national energy mix (with the rest coming mainly from coal, petroleum products, hydropower, and biomass). Therefore, the country is heavily dependent on hydrocarbon imports from Russia.
After the invasion of Ukraine, the EU, which was heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies, turned (or reverted) to nuclear power.
Germany decided in October to keep its three remaining nuclear power plants in operation until at least 2023. In Poland and the Netherlands, in addition to the research reactor in Poland, decisions were made to build three and two new nuclear power plants, respectively (Maria). , 30 MW) and the existing nuclear reactor in the Netherlands (Borssele, 482 MW).
A return to nuclease fashion is a major trend, and the current French government seems determined to contribute to it. Today, nuclear power produces a quarter of Europe’s electricity – the Commission says this share will rise to 12-15% by 2050, despite new projects. Indeed, many old reactors should be shut down.
Diversification of suppliers
Ending energy dependence on Russia is an explicit goal set out in Lithuania’s National Energy Independence Strategy (NEIS), so the country was not surprised last spring when Russia began blocking gas exports to the European Union and allowing Vilnius to do so. giving up Russian gas, which has been preparing for this for years.
In fact, the country realized the importance of cutting energy ties with Moscow as early as 1993, when the supply of Russian oil was cut off – due to non-payment by Moscow and political pressure due to the Baltic countries. The government at the time began to diversify its oil suppliers, a trend that has intensified since 2006, when Russia canceled a branch of the Drujba (Friendship) pipeline. In June 2022, Vilnius completely stopped importing oil from Russia. Today, Lithuanian oil comes from Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Great Britain, USA and Norway.
A second important element of Lithuania’s energy strategy has been the strengthening of electricity connections with Poland (via the LitPolLink transmission network and the future HarmonyLink) and Scandinavia (via NordBalt, active since 2016) over the years. In 2019, almost half of Lithuania’s electricity imports still came from Russia and Belarus. From 2022, all electricity imports come from Sweden (70% of imports) or Latvia (30% of imports).
The third element of this strategy has been the reduction of natural gas imports from Russia over the past ten years, made possible by the construction of a dedicated LNG terminal. The opening of the Klaipeda port terminal in 2014 made it possible to diversify gas suppliers. While all natural gas came from Russia in 2011, these imports fell by 60% in 2019 and will be zero in May 2022 after the government invests in more floating storage capacity and LNG imports, particularly from the US and Norway. , despite the country’s small size, Lithuania is the most important export destination.
Make the right technology choices
In addition to supplier diversification, Lithuania has also invested in technology diversification.
In practice, the government has reduced the share of natural gas in the country’s energy mix by investing in renewable energies and increasing the share of biomass in the district heating system.
Continuity of supply problems encountered with certain renewable energy sources are limited by these technological options. Thus, thanks to the use of biomass, Lithuania managed to reduce the share of Russian gas in its heating system from 80% in 2010 to zero in 2022.
A sound that began to spread in Europe and France
Lithuania is an excellent student when it comes to energy security. The country remains an island of stability in Eastern Europe and is positioned as an emerging investment hub despite the complex geo-economic context.
European partners in energy issues should learn from Lithuania’s situation.
It seems that Lithuania remains a privileged interlocutor of the French government. This was reaffirmed at the beginning of October at a working meeting of Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte with her counterpart Elizabeth Borne in Matignon, where energy security was discussed among other priority topics. The meeting took place within the France-Lithuanian business forum organized by Medef International in Paris to promote the dynamism of the Lithuanian economic ecosystem. It is a sign that this small country with a population of about 3.5 million is of interest to politicians and business circles alike.
ByPresident of Eastern Districts and Lecturer on Geopolitics, Sciences Po.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.