Before the Ukraine war, Russia supplied around half of the natural gas consumed in this country. The proportion is now close to zero. Even after a war in Ukraine, this should ideally not change much, but reality could quickly turn Russia into a trading partner again.

Russia delivered 56.3 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Germany in 2020. Depending on the statistics, the share of all German imports was between 40 and 55 percent. Until this summer, Russia was by far the most important supplier of natural gas, which flowed to us mainly via the Nord Stream Baltic Sea pipeline and the land-based Yamal pipeline through Belarus and Poland. In June, Russia already curbed deliveries, since August they have been completely stopped. For the time being, Germany has been able to fill its gas storage facilities with deliveries from Norway and the Netherlands. But that came at a high price.

So the question arises: What happens when the Ukraine war ends? Can and will Germany buy natural gas from Russia again? If so, under what conditions? If not, what alternatives are there? For politicians who will have to answer these questions in the future, it is a tricky situation where moral values ​​and pragmatic problems collide. We should therefore already be clear about this: There will not be a flawless solution. These points are to be considered.

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies held a conference in October at which energy industry professionals and attending politicians were asked whether Russia would once again become Europe’s main supplier of natural gas after the Ukraine war. The result: a clean draw. 40 percent voted yes, 40 percent no, and the rest abstained.

There are many politicians on the no side. They argue that it is morally wrong to do business again with a Russian President Putin, who has shown this year that he not only enjoys waging wars of aggression, but also uses natural gas supplies as a weapon. This had never happened before, neither in the Cold War, nor in the collapse of the Soviet Union, nor in any other crisis.

The argument that such a president would no longer be able to work together in a spirit of trust is therefore logical. However, it cannot be foreseen today whether Putin will continue to lead Russia after the end of the war and if so, for how long. And even if he were to be deposed, Germany and Europe would have no guarantee that the next head of state would act less ruthlessly. In addition, it could be objected that Germany also works with other states that also act morally with little impeccability. Qatar would be an example of this, and human rights don’t count for much in Kazakhstan either, one of our most important oil suppliers.

This leads directly to the next question: If we no longer get natural gas from Russia, then it has to come from somewhere else. And that leads to two problems.

First, are there enough alternative sources for our needs? In the long run, this question can definitely be answered with yes. Although Russia has the world’s largest natural gas reserves, 75 percent of the world’s reserves are elsewhere. Iran, Qatar, the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates and China have the largest reserves after Russia.

Second, are there enough alternative sources that we would rather work with than Russia? That’s where it gets more difficult. Except for the United States, none of the above countries ranks higher than 137th out of 178 countries in the world in the Human Rights Index of the US organization V-Dem.

The greatest benefit of Russia as the main supplier was above all the low delivery prices. Natural gas from more distant countries is becoming expensive. First of all, as already started, LNG terminals have to be built on the German coasts. Then tankers with liquid natural gas are also more expensive than natural gas through a pipeline. Not using Russia as a supplier could mean higher prices in the long term. It is questionable whether the German population would be willing to do this.

Prices could continue to rise for a few years because sufficient LNG deliveries are only possible when the terminals are completed and the supplying countries can adjust their production and transport accordingly. The cooperation with Qatar will therefore only begin in 2026. That would also be the case with other suppliers. Only the USA, which is already supplying LNG to Germany, could step in at short notice, if necessary also via Dutch terminals. But they would probably let you pay accordingly.

Ideally, however, we should need less natural gas in the future than we do today. Unfortunately, some of this is automatic. As a result of climate change, winters in Germany will gradually become milder and the consumption of natural gas for heating will decrease as a result. However, conscious changes will have a greater impact.

On the one hand, there is the expansion of renewable energies. If it proceeds as planned, or even faster, natural gas would have to be used less and less to generate electricity. For safety reasons, it probably cannot be completely eliminated from this area, since gas-fired power plants offer a good base load. However, management consultancy McKinsey has calculated that the gas share in electricity generation in Germany would fall from 13.7 percent today to 7.6 percent by 2030 if planned.

Added to this is lower consumption in industry. Even before the huge price increase this year, large gas consumers had already started projects to replace fossil raw materials in the coming years. Steel manufacturers, for example, would rather heat their blast furnaces with hydrogen than with natural gas in the future. Chemical companies rely on heat pumps wherever possible, the glass industry is striving for a hybrid solution in which the thermal energy is at least partially obtained from electricity. Heat pumps will also play an increasingly important role in private homes, as new buildings will have to be heated with renewable energies from 2025 – i.e. no longer with natural gas.

But the longer it takes us to transform our society into a climate-friendly environment, the longer we will be dependent on natural gas from abroad. And that can – see points 1 to 3 – still come from Russia.

Follow the author on Facebook

Follow the author on Twitter