Renewables helped the EU save 14% of gas in underground gas storages

Increases in renewable electricity generation helped EU countries to boost underground gas storage levels by 14 percentage points from the beginning of January 2022 until March this year, displacing gas consumption equal to Belgium’s total annual usage. The growth in renewable energy improved the union’s energy security and lessened Russia’s grip on Europe in the energy sector.

The savings made in 2022/2023 due to solar and wind mean that next winter’s heating season is starting with gas stocks already at 57%, which is 15% more than it would be without the boost from solar and wind.

Key findings

  • The additional renewable electricity generation helped EU countries to save 14 bcm of fossil gas in 2022, corresponding to 12% of total underground gas storage (UGS) capacity, and another 2% or 2.25 bcm in January-March 2023.
  • Solar and wind generated 625 TWh (terawatt-hours) of Europe’s electricity in 2022, which is 22% of total electricity generation, while fossil gas generated 20%.
  • Quarter-on-quarter, Europe’s electricity generated from solar and wind increased by 6% from 164 TWh in 2022 to 175 TWh in 2023.
  • Solar and wind generated 32% more electricity than gas during the first quarter of 2023. Wind alone generated 141 TWh of electricity, while only 119 TWh was generated from gas. In addition, solar energy generated 34 TWh.
  • In 2022, the EU paid Russia EUR 57 bln for Russian pipeline gas and EUR 18 bln for LNG. During the first three months of 2023, the EU paid Russia EUR 5.1 bln for pipeline gas and LNG imports. 
  • Russia’s energy blackmail with gas and the surge in gas prices in Europe allowed Russia to increase its gas revenues by 42% from EUR 53 bln in 2021 to EUR 75 bln in 2022. At the same time, Russia reduced its gas exports to the EU by 46%, from 156 bcm (billion cubic metres) in 2021 to 84 bcm in 2022. The EU imported 10.3 bcm of fossil gas from Russia during the first quarter of 2023: 4.4 bcm via pipeline and 5.9 bcm of LNG. 
  • Although the winter of 2022/2023 was warmer than the preceding two winters, helping reduce gas demand, the savings from solar and wind make it possible to start the gas storage refilling for the heating season of 2023/2024 with 57% of the required stocks already in storage. Without the contribution of additional wind and solar, this share would be 43%.

Policy recommendations

  • EU governments should further invest in clean energy and clean heating, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and their imports from third countries. This helps not only to decrease dependence on other regions and increases the EU’s energy security but helps to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions faster. 
  • The industrial sector, affected by high fossil gas prices in 2022, should reduce its dependence on fossil fuels in industrial processes through electrification and by switching to clean energy sources.
  • EU governments should institute price caps and/or import restrictions for pipeline gas and LNG from Russia.

Petras Katinas, Energy Analyst