Shrinking energy resources and rising energy consumption mean we must either accept a future of tough conflicts or try to break with global trends. Energy safety is not merely an economic issue but increasingly a geo-political one. By 2030, the European Commission expects EU dependence on natural gas imports to have grown from 58% today to 80%, and gas imports from Russia to have increased from 42% to 60%. This position won’t be helped by the German and Swiss decision to cease nuclear production, because in the short- and medium-term nuclear power looks to be the most practical alternative.
Germany and Switzerland’s scrapping of nuclear energy may also have perilous effects on the majority of the EU-10 – the formerly communist Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. These countries may come under social and political pressure to reduce the amount of nuclear-generated electricity they consume while abiding by their emissions commitments to the EU.
With global energy demand rising, renewable supplies tight and no German or Swiss nuclear power, demand and therefore prices for natural gas are likely to increase sharply, and even the ample supplies through the Nordstreem pipeline may not be enough to meet the market’s needs. The German and Swiss decisions may therefore accelerate nuclear power projects in the EU-10 and trigger a “renaissance” of coal, something that would be most undesirable from a climate change standpoint. While Germany and Switzerland will no doubt become increasingly clean, the EU-10 risks a “brown” energy mix and a technological “lock-in”.
As for Hungary, a more ambitious use of renewable resources is one obvious solution. But limited budgetary resources – the use of renewable energy is at present highly dependent on government support – and difficulties over ways to increase renewable power generation are putting experts and decision-makers in a quandary.
We in Hungary believe that reliance on North African solar plants for 15% of Europe’s prime energy needs, plus an additional 5% from centralised, high-capacity ebb-and-flow wave and wind power plants in Northern Europe, conflicts with the philosophy of renewable power generation. Replacing decentralised, micro-regional energy generation with a system of “centralised generation with long-term transport” is a regressive step. It may even result in a new kind of energy dependence, or simply transform our current dependence into a different form, while also putting green industry development into reverse.
Hungary’s proposals for achieving energy independence and sustainability consequently start with energy savings, this being the cheapest and most environment-friendly option. We will also maintain the highest possible level of domestic renewable supplies, and develop our own nuclear energy and electric transport systems. A new market-driven agricultural system will also be created which will be able to switch between energy-producing biomass and food crops as demand dictates. Hungary will also secure the best energy import prices by connecting to Europe’s infrastructure.
Based on these deliberations, Hungary’s proposed method for moving energy independence towards sustainability has five elements: (i) Energy saving, because the cheapest and most environment-friendly solution is not to use energy. (ii) The highest possible ratio of domestic renewable energy in supply. (iii) Secure nuclear energy and electrical transport built on the former. (iv) The creation of bipolar agriculture, in which a market-governed switch is possible between the use of biomass for energy generation and for food industrial purposes. (v) Connection to the European energy infrastructure so as to achieve the most favourable purchase prices.