In yet another sign that Russia is losing its death grip on the Baltic region in particular and the fossil energy economy in general, last week the Biden administration formally committed to help Lithuania achieve its 100% renewable energy goal for electricity and become net energy exporter, too. In a weird twist, success in Lithuania could bounce back to the US and help accelerate the renewable energy revolution at home.
Lithuania’s Long Road To 100% Renewable Energy
There is a lot to unpack in the US-Lithuania agreement in terms of geopolitics abroad and domestic politics here in the US. Fossil energy stakeholders are increasingly violent in their desperation to hold back the rising tide of renewable energy, as demonstrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s murderous rampage through Ukraine.
The energy security stakes for Baltic nations are sky-high as evidence of Russian atrocities mounts in Ukraine, and in the midst of all this Lithuania has tasked itself with setting the bar for a fossil free future.
If you’re wondering why Lithuania is so ambitious, that’s a good question. The country’s plans for energy independence suffered a setback in 2010, when its nuclear power production went offline. Lithuania is currently a net energy importer, and its renewable energy sector leans heavily on biomass. That emphasis on biomass is going to be problematic in terms of global forest conservation and carbon sequestration planning over the coming years.
In short, Lithuania is launching its renewable energy transition with one hand tied behind its back and a stone in its shoe. If the country can shoot ahead of the decarbonization pack despite the obstacles, it could provide a model for others to follow.
Lithuania, the IEA & Renewable Energy Geopolitics
Even before Russia launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine, global energy planners were already tapping Lithuania as a potential leader in both clean power and energy security — and by extension, as a threat to Russian energy dominance.
The International Energy Agency, for one, has emerged as a big fan of Lithuania. IEA is a consortium of 31 industrialized countries including the US, under the umbrella of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Alongside the member countries there are a dozen or so associates and aspiring countries. Notably, Russia is not an IEA member or associate. It is listed as an accession country, not a member, of OECD.
Lithuania is one of those countries seeking IEA membership, and with that in mind IEA issued a policy report on the country in April 2021. The report took note of energy-related challenges facing Lithuania, but overall the picture is one of substantial potential for success.
The IEA report also picked out some interesting geopolitical angles, including:
- Lithuania targets 100% of electricity from renewables by 2050.
- Lithuania has consistently emphasized energy security in its energy strategy and regional engagement.
- Lithuania – along with its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia – is integrating its power system into Continental Europe’s.
- Regional supply security has become a top priority, as the Baltic states ceased electricity imports from Belarus in 2020 and are targeting the full synchronization of their power systems with that of Continental Europe by 2025.
Baltic Sea Offshore Wind Power Is The Key
Did Vladimir Putin read that IEA report? Who knows! If he did, all the more reason to flex the power of Russia’s fossil energy economy while there is still time.
With a relatively small population, Lithuania would not account for much in the way of oil and gas imports from Russia. However, as with Ukraine, Lithuania poses an outsized threat to Russian fossil energy stakeholders because of its potential for exporting renewable energy to EU nations and beyond.
If you’re thinking green hydrogen, that’s only part of the equation, but it’s an important element due to Lithuania’s access to offshore wind power in the Baltic Sea. Hydrogen is both a fuel and an energy storage medium that is transportable on multiple platforms including highway, rail, ship, and pipeline.
IEA Executive Director Faith Birol emphasized the hydrogen and offshore wind angles in a press release announcing the April 2021 report, stating that “Hydrogen, offshore wind and batteries can be real game-changers in the context of Lithuania’s clean energy transition.”
The green hydrogen angle comes into play as new floating wind turbine technology enables wind developers in multiple nations to tap more areas of the Baltic Sea. Eight EU nations sit on the Baltic Sea including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Poland, and Sweden alongside Lithuania.
With water and electricity from renewable resources in hand, Baltic nations can run electrolysis systems to produce green hydrogen. That’s one giant decarbonization step up from the conventional hydrogen supply chain, which leans heavily on fossil resources.
In particular, Denmark and Germany have already formed an alliance that will enable Germany’s high-demand economy to siphon off excess green hydrogen from Denmark.
Russia also has a foothold in the Baltic Sea through its free-floating Kaliningrad Oblast, but given the nation’s past and recent history, Russia is unlikely to exploit its only year-round ice-free port on the Baltic sea for renewable energy development any time in the near future.
The Los Angeles-Lithuania Renewable Energy Connection
If all goes according to plan, the new collaboration between Lithuania and the US will deploy the LA100 plan as a model for Lithuania’s energy transition.
That will put Lithuania on the map as the first nation in the world to implement the LA100 model.
LA100 is a first-of-its-kind, computer-enabled multidisciplinary study that positions the City of Los Angeles as a test case for achieving a 100% carbon-free power sector on a national level.
“The study’s results show that a reliable, 100% renewable electricity supply is indeed achievable for LA by 2045 or even a decade sooner,” NREL wrote in an summary of the report.
“Equally exciting is how the results point to new research priorities — from R&D to advance the development of commercially available storable hydrogen fuel, to improvements in how we model and prioritize energy equity,” the lab added.
There’s that hydrogen thing again. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
As for why Lithuania, and not the US, will be the first nation in the world to implement the LA100 model, that’s another good question. If you have any thoughts about that, you know the drill.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image (screenshot, page 18): Lithuania profile courtesy of IEA.org.
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