The actions Europeans can take today to reduce our demand for gas and support Ukraine


Over the past several days, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken the world. Alongside the horror for the Ukrainian people, there are also the global ramifications.  When it comes to energy supply and demand in Europe, we were already at the centre of a perfect storm. Energy prices had leapt and governments were struggling to manage the impact. These increases, though sharp, are not short lived and the price increases have been further exacerbated by the Russian invasion. 

Reports suggest that we have enough gas stored to get through this winter, but Europe needs to take action to reduce demand for gas by 15% for next winter and of course meet our net zero ambitions in the longer term. 

To meet immediate needs whilst sanctioning Russia, Europe must diversify its gas supply and negotiations are under way. We need to accelerate the energy transition to renewables though this is not a quick fix. Renewables will give us greater self sufficiency in the future but wind turbines and solar arrays take time. Obstacles need to be removed and the Commission has signalled that. 

Thirdly is the need to reduce energy demand. To accomplish this, we need not look further than a solution well known for decades: insulating our homes, offices and factories. As Chatham House Senior Fellow Walt Patterson pointed out some 15 years ago, loft insulation is one of the most powerful foreign policy tools we have at our disposal. 

What can you do today to increase Europe's energy independence? 

Of course, the need to better insulate Europe’s buildings is nothing new. These solutions are also well known but bear repeating: If you are a property owner with access to your roof space, buy some rolls of mineral wool insulation and insulate your roof to a minimum of 30 cm. If you are a builder, train yourself in pest-proof under-floor insulation. There are millions in need of it and a huge knowledge and skills gap to doing it well. If you are a government or policy maker, develop and mandate proper training for tradespeople. 

And even if you are none of the above, you can still turn your thermostat down by one degree. You would be amazed by the collective impact of this simple action.  

Avoiding the mistakes of the past 

Despite a long-standing consensus that better insulation is needed, most schemes introduced by European countries have failed to make a marked difference. A lack of skilled tradespeople combined with lax regulation and even worse enforcement has sometimes led to tragic consequences. 

Now is the time for countries across Europe to get serious about implementing imaginative solutions that learn from past failures. 

We are experiencing a moment of unprecedented European unity – embracing this current momentum is essential to not only loosening Russia's vice-like grip on Europe's energy system but also ensuring that reducing demand for gas helps us on our way to achieving climate goals too.