Samuele Furfari: “If Russia Cuts The Gas Tap, It Can Forget Selling Gas To China”

  • Date: 02/05/14
  • Energy Post

The EU has made remarkable progress in improving its security of supply over the last decade and should not worry that Russia will cut off its gas supplies, says Professor Samuele Furfari in an interview with Energy Post Brussels Correspondent Hughes Belin. A long-time senior advisor at the European Commission, Professor Furfari, author of a brandnew provocative book – “Hurray for fossil fuels – an energy counter revolution ” – says the world has entered a new energy paradigm as a result of an abundance of energy. He is convinced that Russia will not turn off the gas tap if only because it wants to be seen as reliable potential supplier to China. Ukraine, he says, can solve its energy problem by banning corruption in the energy sector and improving its deplorably poor energy efficiency.

Samuele Furfari is a well-known, flamboyant and highly respected figure in Brussels energy circles. As a longtime advisor to the Director-General for Energy at the European Commission – in addition to his work as professor in energy geopolitics at the Free University of Brussels – he is often reluctant to voice his opinions in public. But he has just had a new book out in France which minces no words. It is called “Vive les énergies fossiles!” – Hurray for fossil fuels – a title which is bound to make him some enemies among renewable energy enthusiasts.

But according to Furfari, the EU was built on the promise of “abudant and cheap energy” and renewables cannot deliver this at this stage. Fortunately, from his point of view, the world has never had such an abundance of fossil fuels as it has today – and this abundance has never been more widely distributed. The shale gas revolution, he says, is just beginning. This has huge implications not only for renewable energy, but also for the EU’s security of supply, which has improved drastically, and for Russia’s position in the world energy market, which is much more vulnerable than most people realise.

Energy Post’s Brussels correspondent Hughes Belin (colleague of our other Brussels correspondent, Sonja van Renssen) had a wide-ranging and fascinating in-depth interview with Professor Furfari.

Q: The issue of energy security is not new to the EU: already in 2000, the European Commission issued a green paper on the matter. What has been done since then?

A: The issue of security of energy supply goes back to the prehistory of the EU! It is an issue EU leaders have always had in the back of their mind and will always have, because we are poor in energy resources. Improving our security of supply doesn’t mean we have to become energetically independent, but to manage well our dependency. And there, the EU has developed a three-fold strategy: 1. Diversify our energy resources (including renewables, efficiency and nuclear) 2. Diversify our suppliers and 3. Diversify our supply routes from a single supplier.

Q: Have we followed this strategy so far?

A: All in all, the whole strategy has been implemented efficiently. On the first point, the EU acknowledges that it should not use a single type of energy: Poland does coal, Spain does solar, France does nuclear, Sweden does biomass, Finland does peat, Germany does gas, etc. This diversity at the level of the EU leads to a well-diversified energy mix. Let’s remember too that no-one in the world has developed such ambitious policies for renewables and energy efficiency.

On the second point, we have been diversifying our suppliers: Qatar is today one of our big suppliers of natural gas, which wasn’t the case a few years ago. Finally, you hear it constantly: we don’t stop developing alternative routes to get natural gas. Frankly, we have made giant leaps in improving our security of energy supply in the last 13 years.

Q: What’s left to do?

A: I don’t think we should change the strategy. It’s more a spirit we have to develop. At the Messina Conference in June 1955 when the European Community was created, the founding fathers said there wouldn’t be any future for the Community “without abundant and cheap energy”. That remains the fundamentals of any strategy, because, like it or not, the laws of physics tell us that there can be no material welfare without energy consumption. Dreaming of the opposite is to deny physical science. In the longer term, we also have to search for new energies, be they renewable, fossil or nuclear. The answer to your question is therefore: we still have to promote a lot more innovation, which stems from R&D, which in turn stems from fundamental research.

Q: Is it dangerous for the EU to be “too” dependent on Russian gas? Does the current crisis threaten EU gas supplies?

A: Everything hangs from what you mean by “too dependent”. Common wisdom says you shouldn’t put all your eggs in the same basket. Western European countries have been dependent on Russian gas for more than 30 years. Eastern European countries for even longer and sometimes fully so – that’s the case for the Baltic States and Finland. Did a country complain before the crisis of January 2006?

Energy security is like tango: you need two partners which like each other, know each other and know what the next moves will be. We are no longer in 1973 or 1979 when the energy weapon was used to impose geopolitical choices. This is not possible anymore, on one hand because fossil fuel reserves are abundant and much better distributed than we thought just a few years ago, and on the other hand because we live in a globalised world. You cannot annoy a customer without it having an impact on all other customers in the world.

I sincerely think we have entered a new energy paradigm which will impose a pax energetica. As evidence for it, I would point out that despite the high tensions of the last few weeks in terms of international relations we haven’t had the slightest problem with energy supply.

Q : If the situation escalates in Ukraine, do you think Russia might again cut the gas tap to Ukraine?

A: Russia needs a partner to continue to dance the energy tango. It cannot afford to cut the gas tap to Ukraine because this would penalise the EU. On top of that, it would lead to the assumption that it already cut the tap in January 2006 and January 2009, which Russia denies. If it did so only once, it can definitively forget to hope to sell its gas to China one day. Relations between China and Russia are definitely less harmonious than those between Russia and the EU.

Full interview