'Need for Russian gas could be cut'
Europe could cut its dependence on gas from Russia with a major push on energy efficiency, a think-tank has urged.
If the European Union made improving energy efficiency the centrepiece of its strategy on energy, it could cut its reliance on gas by a third by 2030, equivalent to the proportion of the EU's gas demand met by imports from Russia.
A move to significantly boost energy efficiency in appliances, buildings and industry across Europe would also slash the EU's fuel bill by 500 billion euros (£400 billion) up to 2030, a report from think-tank IPPR said.
In the shadow of the Ukraine crisis, the report calls for a 35% binding energy saving target as part of the package of climate and energy measures being drawn up by the European Commission for 2030.
The target is higher than the 30% proposed by the Commission, which did not initially put forward an energy efficiency target as part of the 2030 target but later did following support for such a move from at least seven governments.
The UK government opposes a legally-binding energy efficiency target for Europe in 2030.
The IPPR report warns that more than half of Europe's energy is imported, including 90% of oil, two-thirds of gas and 62% of its coal.
It said that 24 out of 28 EU member states import gas from Russia, half of which flows through Ukraine, while six EU countries are completely reliant on Russia for all of their gas. The UK uses Russia for around 15% of its gas supplies, the report said.
Russia receives around 31 billion euros (£25 billion) a year from the EU for imported gas.
The study also said that Europe's energy bill could reach £380 billion a year, with most of the projected increase in consumer costs expected to come from rising fossil fuel prices, as well as replacing ageing and polluting energy infrastructure.
IPPR research fellow Joss Garman said: "The crisis in Ukraine has reignited the debate in Europe over whether the package of energy policies that the continent's leaders are aiming to agree in October should include a binding 2030 target on energy efficiency.
"This is because the countries that are most dependent on Russian gas are also the least fuel-efficient, and improvements in energy efficiency could vastly reduce the scale of our dependency on Russia."
He urged: "European leaders should adopt a new, binding EU-wide target for energy efficiency of 35% by 2030.
"This level of ambition would enable Europe to cut gas imports by a third, equivalent to the proportion of the EU's gas demand that is currently met by Russia.
"Britain should overcome its aversion to an energy efficiency target as part of its broader response to Russian aggression."
The report also calls for a EU-wide commitment to halve greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, with binding emissions targets for each member state, and for a legally-binding goal to boost renewables by 30% by then.
Former Government Climate and Energy Security Envoy Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti said: "Recent events in Ukraine and the Middle East have served to highlight the vulnerability of our energy supplies and the political straitjacket that results from our over-dependence on fossil fuel imports from these volatile regions.
"The quickest and most effective form of energy security is to use less.
"EU leaders are currently discussing whether to mandate energy efficiency improvements of 30% by 2030; studies show that we can go to 40% without incurring economic penalties, and Ukraine shows that we must.
"Investing in energy efficiency and domestic sources of energy like wind, solar, wave and nuclear power will also improve the EU's competitiveness with the US and China, and bring health benefits by reducing air pollution."
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We are committed to energy efficiency and support ambitious EU energy efficiency measures to promote economic growth, reduce costs for households and businesses, improve energy security and support action to decarbonise cost-effectively.
"We are concerned that an EU energy efficiency target for 2030 would not allow member states the flexibility to choose the most cost-effective pathway to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increase the costs of delivering the overall 2030 package."