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Olga Solonari interviewed Claudia Kemfert (df)January 4, 2007

Russia's energy spat with neighboring Belarus has once again highlighed Europe's dependence on Russian gas. German energy expert Claudia Kemfert talked to DW-WORLD.DE about ways to get around the problem.

Russia's gas rows with its neighbors have sparked concerns in EuropeImage: AP

DW-WORLD.DE: The gas dispute between Russia and Belarus shows that Moscow has been using the energy issue as a political tool. What are the consequences for European and German energy policy?

Claudia Kemfert: Both Germany and Europe realize from this dispute that we are dependent on Russian gas exports. A recurrent theme of European energy policy is to reduce such dependence, which means relying more on our own resources, such as renewable energy, but also nuclear energy. At the same time we should try and avoid an energy squeeze by looking at tapping energy from other gas-supplying nations.

Which alternative countries are you referring to?

At the moment, gas is already supplied by Norway (which is not an EU member), but there are limits to the supply. Then there are countries such as Qatar, which are capable of delivering gas to Europe. Pipelines are also being built precisely for this reason. There is also the potential of liquified natural gas (LNG). Germany missed the opportunity to construct tankers specially designed to store the gas. One is being planned at the port of Wilhelmshaven, but it won't be in service until 2010. And one tanker won't be enough. It's obvious that we haven't prepared well in order to diversify our energy sources.

What needs to change at the political level so that we can tap energy from other sources?

In the past we were hugely dependent on one energy provider. Russia has been a reliable supplier, no doubt about it, but the Kremlin also has a political agenda and puts pressure on the transit countries delivering gas. We could have a delivery problem when Belarus for example, decides to block its pipelines or if Russia once again has a gas row with Ukraine. One cannot rule out the fact that Europe too, for whatever reason, could have a dispute with Russia. That would then threaten energy supplies. For this reason, Europe must promote domestic energy providers in order to reduce its dependence on gas imports. And it's also important for Europe to improve upon its energy effiiciency.

You have already mentioned nuclear energy. Should Germany rethink its planned phasing out of nuclear power?

DIW Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert Porträtfoto
Energy expert Claudia KemfertImage: presse

Problems could naturally arise when nuclear plants need to be replaced by gas or conventional coal power plants. With gas-fired plants there is the danger that we could become too heavily dependent on energy imports, for instance from Russia.We know that coal plants generate excessive carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change. Besides, Germany is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, so there is a real danger that we may not stick to the promised cuts in CO2 emissions. That's why we are pushing to extend the life span of safe nuclear plants so that we have enough time to strengthen domestic energy providers. The focus in the long term should however not be on nuclear energy, but on strenghtening renewable energy sources so that we have a good energy mix.

Germany has in the past relied hugely on gas deliveries, a fact that has influenced the German position within Europe. Would a diversification of energy sources change this situation?

A bit. As head of the EU presidency, Germany will make it clear that it wants to pursue a policy change and diversify its energy. Besides, it has to be made further clear that we are aware that there could be delivery problems and that Germany would like to see more transparency in the Russian energy market. We have to make it clear to the Russians where our interests lie. But at the same time we should be prepared to accept the Russian need to sell gas. We all have legitimate economic interests, but when political interests begin to play a role, it must be made clear that western Europe and Germany don't want to play along. If we seek other energy providers too in future, this could threaten the very good Russian-German relations.

Claudia Kemfert is head of the division "Energy, Transport, Environment" at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) and is Chair of Environmental Economics at Berlin's Humboldt University.