Heatwaves this summer could lead to a surge in fossil fuel use as many countries worldwide continue to rely on oil, gas, and coal to meet their demand peaks. While many governments are striving to increase their renewable energy capacity in line with a green transition, this is a slow process, with many projects taking several years, or even decades, to complete. And even if countries are experiencing success in the gradual transition to green, several are continuing to turn to fossil fuels during times of extremely high demand, causing concern about the heatwaves we will likely see around the globe this summer.
Many parts of Europe are already experiencing higher than typical temperatures going into the summer, with more severe weather conditions expected over the coming months. There are fears of drought, negative effects on the environment, and energy shortages if the hot, dry spell continues for as long as last year, which saw record temperatures across several countries. Extremely high temperatures over a long period could mean that the growing renewable energy capacity of many European countries is not enough to meet the elevated energy demand. This will make governments both turn to fossil fuels to meet energy needs as well as drive up energy prices.
In the U.K. this week, temperatures rose above 30oC for the first time in 2023, pushing the consumer energy demand up. National Grid, the electricity and gas utility company, was forced to turn to coal to meet the demand for air conditioning, following 46 days without using coal. The company’s electricity system operator asked Uniper, the owner of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottinghamshire, to provide the grid with power from its coal plant. Related: Mexican State Firm Was The Top Net Buyer Of U.S. Natural Gas In 2022
The rapid shift to coal in the face of higher energy demand is worrying considering that the U.K. could experience an extremely hot summer. Meteorologists forecast that the British summer could be around 2.3 times hotter than typical, leading more homes and businesses across the country to use air conditioning. The use of coal to meet this rise in energy demand has led green campaigners to criticize the U.K. government for failing to do enough to support an accelerated green transition.
Although the U.K. has developed its renewable energy capacity in recent years, with solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower contributing 40% of the country’s electricity in 2022, an increase of 5% from 2021, much of these green energy sources remain less reliable than fossil fuel operations. Wind turbines require good wind levels to maintain their energy production. And while many solar panels no longer require sunshine for power – instead needing just daylight – the U.K. must significantly increase its battery storage capacity and grid infrastructure to ensure a stable supply of green energy, night and day.
As well as Europe, many countries across Asia may also be forced to ramp up their fossil fuel production to meet the summer energy demand. The Philippines and other South and Southeast Asia countries experienced heatwaves in April and May, with temperatures rising to over 45°C, driving up the energy demand. Governments have been finding it difficult to meet the growing demand for electricity to power air conditioners, with more than a dozen people dying from the heat in India, Malaysia, and Thailand by the end of May.
So far, political powers across the region have had to turn to fossil fuels to ensure their energy security. For example, Thailand, Bangladesh and India all saw a rise in their demand for natural gas in April. In addition, several countries have increased their imports of Russian coal, despite heavy pressures from the West to cut ties with Russia due to its ongoing conflict with Ukraine. And while this is necessary to provide enough energy during extreme weather conditions, experts anticipate hotter summers to become a more common occurrence over the next decades due to climate change.
Despite the increase in renewable energy capacity across several countries in the region, many solar and wind generators may not be able to work efficiently in the face of long heatwaves. Victor Nian, the CEO of the Singapore think tank Centre for Strategic Energy and Resources (CSER), is concerned “that because of the heatwave, and because of the current [energy] infrastructure development, countries in the region may turn to coal more aggressively than ever.”
In India, coal and gas production for power generation grew at the fastest pace in more than three decades in the fiscal year 2022 to 2023, and the country’s reliance on these fossil fuels is expected to increase significantly this summer in the face of high temperatures. The northwest and center of India experienced their hottest record in around 122 years in April, and these temperatures could rise even higher, as summer peaks in June. This is happening at the same time as renewable energy plants are also hitting record output levels, showing that India’s dedication to green energy simply isn’t enough to meet the growing demand at present.
While several countries around the globe are racing to increase their renewable energy capacity, most are far from meeting the green energy demand of their populations. And with more regular and longer heatwaves being seen due to climate change, the continued global reliance on fossil fuels to meet a higher-than-usual energy demand is evident. Environmental activists are now asking governments to prepare for these hot spells and restrict the use of the most-polluting forms of fossil fuels to maintain support for a green transition.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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