Recount: New tool shows how much clean energy EU could build instead of buying more Russian blood oil

Despite uniting in opposition to the Russian government’s brutal February invasion of Ukraine, in the days since, EU nations have still spent some 60 billion euros in imported Russian coal, oil, and fossil gas according to estimates by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). While governments scramble to find alternative sources of fossil fuels – sending prices and profits soaring, they continue pouring ever more money into the Kremlin’s war machine. As lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reviews, the surest way to reduce Russia’s military might is to ramp up investments in renewables. A newly released tool by the NGO Europe Beyond Coal dramatically illustrates the bloody tradeoff European leaders keep sadly making.

The NGO Europe beyond Coal works towards “peace-building renewable solutions”. (Photo by Felix von der Osten, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Oil-soaked war

In the 100 plus days since Russia’s late February invasion of Ukraine, despite uniting in opposition to such brutal aggression, European Member States have still spent an estimated 60 billion euros importing Russian coal, oil, and fossil gas — funds which overwhelmingly serve to prop up President Putin’s war machine.

To illustrate the gulf between rhetoric and reality, in March the NGO Europe Beyond Coal (EBC), an alliance of civil society groups working to ensure a just transition to a fossil-free, fully renewables-based European energy sector, published a digital tracker revealing how much money EU member states were continuing to spend on Russian fossil fuels.

Using real-time shipping data from and Datalastic, live data on fossil gas flows from ENTSO-G, and recent Eurostat data, the counter constantly updates this agonized money flow.

“By purchasing Russian fossil fuels, EU countries are fueling an atrocious war in our country and violent conflicts elsewhere in the world. They are morally obliged to bring this terrible charade to an end by imposing a total ban on all coal, oil and fossil gas imports from Russia,” said Svitlana Romanko, lead campaigner with the NGO Stand With Ukraine. “Not only will Ukrainians thank them for this, their own people will too, as in the long term they will enjoy greater energy security and lower energy bills.”

As ever more bombs and missiles continue raining down on Ukraine, it is abundantly clear that far too many European politicians, particularly German ones, mistakenly believed that increasing trade with Russia would ensure a long-term peace. Despite Russian forces leveling Syrian cities and invading the Crimean Peninsula, apologists in Germany’s long-ruling “Grand Coalition,” led by Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, bewilderingly continued advocating policies intended to increase Europe’s dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.

“For decades, Europe’s biggest buyers of Russian fossil fuels have chosen to turn a blind eye to the Kremlin’s violations against human rights, and environmental and international laws. The stark consequences of this moral and strategic mistake are now clear for all to see. This is not the time for “business as usual”. Their contributions to Russia’s war machine must stop now,” said Kostiantyn Krynytskyi, head of energy at Ukrainian NGO, Ecoaction.

Visualizing alternative realities

Now after three horrible months of war, Europe Beyond Coal has added a new feature to their oft cited tracking tool that highlights how much this 60 billion plus Euros that EU member states have and continue sending to Russia could buy in equivalent renewable energy solutions and power savings programs instead.

By EBC’s estimate, EU countries could have built out approximately 735,000 new solar rooftops, 7,300 football pitches worth of solar PV, 1,900 onshore wind turbines, 300 offshore wind turbines, 270,000 newly insulated homes, and close to a million installed heat pumps.

Though clearly the money spent on Russian fossil fuels couldn’t and can’t simply be rerouted, it’s still stunning to imagine how much the entire planet could have benefited had Europe taken the dramatically different path of investing in a robust mixture of energy efficiency measures along with an emergency expansion of “peace-building renewable solutions,” as EBC terms them.

Like its predecessor, EBC’s web counter tool continues to rely on real-time shipping data to display the overall EU sum spent on Russian fossil fuels since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with breakdowns by fuel type (oil, fossil, coal) and by country, including a full year figure for each country, based on 2021 UN Comtrade trade data.

“If we want to secure peace, achieve energy independence, and tackle the growing climate and cost of living emergencies, our governments, and energy industry need to end fossil fuel payments now, and invest heavily in renewable energy, ambitious energy savings and electrification measures,” said Kathrin Gutmann, Europe Beyond Coal campaign director.

“Europe has sleepwalked into dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The moral imperative now is to rapidly stop importing them. Ramping up spending on energy efficiency and fossil free, renewable energy sources is essential to replacing these supplies, and will also help to avoid a global price spiral that would deliver further windfall profits to Russia. There are already good examples of policies to accelerate the take up of heat pumps, insulate houses, and produce green energy. These now need to be mainstreamed across the entire region,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA’s lead analyst.

Readers can review CREA and EBC’s methodology and data here.

Renewables not bombs

Thankfully there are some signs that a change is in the wind so to speak.

In their newly released “Shocked into action” report by CREA and the climate and energy think tank Ember, researchers detail how some European countries are beginning to accelerate the rate of transition from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.

We’ll dig into their findings and other positive indicators in future blogs. But as observers fear that a “Ukrainian war fatigue” is starting to set in, it is more critical than ever that we change course and demand that our elected leaders immediately increase investments in renewable power and energy savings programs.

Certainly plans to rapidly insulate, repower, and further interconnect EU Member States, as well as neighbouring European countries, will help cut the money pouring into Putin’s regime.

Only this way can we secure peace, protect our climate, and provide affordable energy for all.


L. Michael Buchsbaum is an energy and mining journalist and industrial photographer based in Germany. Since the mid-1990s, he has covered the social, environmental, economic and political impacts of the transition from fossil fuels towards renewables for dozens of industry magazines, journals, institutions and corporate clients. Born in the U.S., he emigrated to Germany and Europe to better document the Energiewende. He is also the host of The Global Energy Transition Podcast.

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