Opinion: Impact of Russian sanctions on transition to clean energy
"Could Russian sanctions hobble U.S. clean energy push?", February 24 2022
Russia’s oil and gas industries have gotten a lot of attention in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but some experts say Russia's mining interests could also complicate the U.S. response to the nation's invasion of its neighbor.
Russia is a leading producer of copper, nickel, platinum group metals and other minerals considered crucial for building a lower-carbon future. As tensions surrounding Ukraine have ratcheted up, the metals markets Russia plays in were driven into a frenzy, with the price of nickel currently sitting at an 11-year high.
Some observers are arguing that Russia's invasion of Ukraine underscores a national security rationale for weaning off of fossil fuels, perhaps particularly for European countries that look east for a large share of their natural gas. But experts caution that a shift away from fossil fuels carries its own strategic implications, given Russia's standing as a major metal miner, which could complicate broad sanctions as the country continues its assault on a U.S. ally.
Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and co-founder of 350.org, tweeted yesterday that Russia’s “main weapon against Europe is its threat to cut off oil and gas,” ... “Continued dependence on fossil fuels is the greatest single gift we could give to Vladimir Putin... Overcoming that dependence would free us to confront him much more directly,” McKibben said in an email today to E&E News.
However, existing plans to transition away from fossil fuels largely rely on siting new energy generation sources and producing consumer electric vehicles — activities that will require lots of metal that Russia produces. At a time when metal supply is tight, some watching the chaos unfold in Europe are wondering whether the violence could result in retaliatory measures that wind up shifting the supply of metals away from Western manufacturers.
The focus in the “energy world regarding the Russian invasion” has been “around the implications for oil and natural gas"... said Morgan Bazilian, director of the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines. “Less highlighted are the implications for other commodities including nickel, aluminum, steel, cobalt and copper,” Bazilian said, noting that all of those materials are ones “Russia has in significant quantities.”
One of the largest companies in the nickel business is Norilsk Nickel, or Nornickel... Reed Blakemore, deputy director at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, said Nornickel poses an important question to the United States and its allies: Could sanctioning a Russian critical mineral, like nickel, backfire?
“Does taking Russian nickel off-market via sanctions just tighten that nickel supply chain, where you end up just actually hurting your own domestic manufacturing goals that need significant amounts of nickel?” Blakemore said...