Energy Bookshelf Blog

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The Revolution will spread…

Back in 1973 oil accounted for around half of world energy consumption, but now amounts to only about a third. But we are still very dependent on oil. Every ten dollars of world economic output requires something over a pint of oil to make it happen. And however optimistic one is about electric cars and… Read more »

The Planet Remade

Time to take geo-engineering seriously?

Geo-engineering approaches to tackling climate change range have an element of science fiction about them: giant reflectors in space, enormous machines to suck carbon dioxide out of the air etc. – although admittedly some are less fantastical, such as schemes for returning carbon to the ground as biochar. Should such approaches be taken seriously, or… Read more »

Natural Gas as an Instrument of Russian Foreign Policy Ion Iftimie

Putin’s Gas Weapon

(for a more detailed historical treatment of Russian gas exports, Per Hogselius’ “Red Gas” remains invaluable).

As the title of his book suggests, Iftimie has no doubt about the important role of energy – and gas in particular – in the foreign policy of a Russia which has revived international ambitions, but which no longer has the capacity to enforce its grand strategic ends through military force. He argues against the conventional “interdependency argument” – i.e. that Russia is as dependent on its gas customers for revenues as they are on Russia for energy – pointing out the fragmented nature of the European market. Lithuania, for example, is dependent on Russia for 100% of its gas needs, but sales to Lithuania are only 2.3% of Gazprom’s export revenues.

And Iftimie argues that Russia has often actually resorted to use of the “gas weapon”, citing data showing that it threatened to disrupt – or actually disrupted – gas supply to countries in its “near abroad” over forty times between 1991 and 2013. And moreover, the man now in charge has strong leanings in the direction of using Russia’s natural resources as a means of reasserting its status as an international power: this was precisely the theme of Vladimir Putin’s Ph.D. thesis.

So Iftimie makes a strong case, and certainly the EU takes the security of supply threat seriously – hence its support of increasing pipeline connections in Europe and of imports from the Caspian and Middle East through Turkey. But currently the European gas industry has more immediate things to worry about. European gas consumption has fallen some 20% since 2010, but Russia cannot be blamed for this: in fact at least part of the cause can, ironically, be traced to Russia’s main international rival, the USA. Thanks to the US shale revolution, cheap gas has displaced coal in the US power sector, and some of this cheap coal has turned up in the European market, undercutting gas in Europe’s power sector. Europe’s carbon pricing system was meant to prevent this sort of thing, but hasn’t, leaving the European gas business in the doldrums.

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With the West’s relations with Russia at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, worries about Europe’s reliance on Russian gas have again come to the fore. Russian gas makes up around 25% of EU gas supplies overall, but the dependence of some countries is much higher: six EU member states depend… Read more »

Coal Wars The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet

The dirtiest of fuels – a look into coal industries of the USA and China

Coal is far and away the dirtiest source of energy. Not only does it account for around 45% of global CO2 emissions, but sulphur and particulates from coal burning also continue to cause serious and health-threatening smogs in many places – particularly in China. The mountains of ash created by coal burning also represent a… Read more »

The energy World is Flat

Is the energy world really flat?

The Peak Oil theory, which reached its own zenith around 2010 with the publication of Matt Simmons’ book “Twilight in the Desert”, is, for many commentators, now consigned to the dustbin of history, along with many previous predictions that the world is running out of oil. For some this is not, in fact, good news…. Read more »