The war in Ukraine has upset the geopolitical balance, highlighting the risks of energy dependence on only a handful of suppliers. Over the past two decades, the weight of oil for Europe has declined, but it remains the main source of energy. In this scenario takes room the idea of Italy as a strategic energy hub for Europe.
While gas, renewables and biofuels have gained an increasingly large slice of the pie. According to experts, 2022 was a year of break from the past, where the European Union, cracked in its relations with Russia, had to look around for new markets.
Brussels’ focus has shifted from east to south, weaving ties that could put the Mediterranean back at the center of the debate.
Italy as energy hub for Europe: less east and more south for gas supplies
Between March and September, Russian gas supplies for the European Union plummeted by 80 percent.
The gap left by the Kremlin’s resources has been filled, with difficulty, by forging new supply agreements with countries on the southern Mediterranean coast, such as Algeria, Azerbaijan and Libya, and diversifying the resource mix.
Adding to the diversity of supply has been the effort on the part of consumers who have cut energy consumption. Thanks in part to the support of European policies against high bills.
“The current war is certainly not Ukraine’s first moment of crisis,” Ettore Bompard, director of the Esl energy center, stressed in a conference addressed to the press. “Already in 2009 the flow of gas to the Union was suspended for 13 days. At that time Brussels was more concerned about the corridor than the source and reacted by trying to bypass Ukraine.
Thus the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines were born. And a third link was planned that was to go through all the Baltic countries, the Sud Stream.” Since then, Europe’s gas dependence on Russia has increased, and at the same time the monetary flow to the Kremlin has grown.
Italy as energy hub, how strategic is the role of the Mediterranean
Compared to recent years, the war has reversed priorities by putting “energy security and affordability first and moving environmental sustainability to the background“.
Instead of moving toward decarbonization, “Europe made a U-turn, turning the energy dialogue from green to a bit more black.” In the long run, the continent should aim for greater energy independence. Namely, relying on diverse and, if possible, “geopolitically independent” suppliers.
The Mediterranean will also play a key role in the ecological transition. According to the study, the pace of growth in renewable capacity from the Middle East and North America is expected to more than double over the next five years. Thus, from 15 to more than 32 gigawatts.
The leap, on this side of the globe, will be concentrated in five countries. Morocco and Egypt will grow driven by onshore photovoltaics and wind power. While the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel will lead the way with hydrogen generation.
Alternative ecological fuels, a solution to enrich the energy mix
One strategic solution for Europe’s energy future is alternative fuels. These are both fuels of biological origin, such as biofuels and biogas, and synthetic fuels, also called e-fuels.
For Bompard, these new resources “should not be seen in the logic of compensating cut to existing supplies. Unlike gas, which is an available commodity, alternative fuels must be produced. There is a whole supply chain to develop.”
But in some sectors, such as aviation and shipping, it already has immediate application.
Read also: European renewables at unprecedented levels: soon to be the first source of energy