“The deliberate policies of energy producers” are to blame for the soaring gas and electricity prices in Europe, the head of the International Energy Agency said at an industry event this week, in yet another lash-out at fossil fuel producers generally and Russia specifically.
Also, not for the first time, the IEA’s Fatih Birol made a point of saying Europe’s energy crisis had nothing to do with the transition to renewable energy. As before, Birol gave no explanation as to why he believed the crisis had nothing to do with the shift to renewables. It was “wrong,” he said as quoted by Bloomberg, to say the price spikes were the result of this shift.
Strikes at energy exporters—and Russia—have become something of a regular occurrence for Birol. Earlier this year, he said Russia could send more gas to Europe and thus “underscore its credentials as a reliable supplier to the European market.” Incidentally, in that very same statement, Birol also didn’t miss the chance to say renewables had nothing to do with the energy crunch.
“Recent increases in global natural gas prices are the result of multiple factors, and it is inaccurate and misleading to lay the responsibility at the door of the clean energy transition,” he said in October, again without providing any reasoning behind this statement.
This is interesting because one of the world’s largest turbine makers, Denmark’s Vestas, earlier this month cut its financial performance outlook for this year, citing continued supply chain constraints, higher costs, and lower wind speeds that led to lower output of electricity from wind parks.
Vestas wasn’t the only one, either. Its fellow turbine major Ørsted also warned on 2021 financial results, also citing “Additional burdens [that] resulted from below-average wind conditions at onshore wind farm locations in Northern and Central Europe.”
In other words, the world’s two largest wind turbine makers openly “blame” lower wind park output for their annual profits but the head of the International Energy Agency appears to see no link between this lower wind park output and the energy shortage Europe has been experiencing since September.
Incidentally, data from electricityMap, which updates constantly, showed in September that wind park output across Europe was very low indeed. Right now, as of the time of writing, Germany, the UK, France, Spain, and Romania are producing a lot more electricity from wind power than from natural gas. Why does the crunch continue, then?
Solar power generation across the continent appears to be zero. Indeed, winter is not the most productive season for solar farms. There tends to be a lot less sun during the winter months, and there is also the snow coverage factor, which greatly compromises the efficiency factor of solar panels. These can be cleaned, of course, but not immediately and not quickly if we’re talking about utility-scale solar plants.
In other words, much as the IEA’s Birol would not hear anything negative said about wind and solar, they do seem to have a role in the energy crunch gripping Europe. Indeed, reason and common sense would suggest they naturally would, exactly like natural gas—put very simply, the more you have of a resource, the better. The less you have of a resource, the worse. This seems to be a problem nobody wants to draw attention to in renewable energy circles.
“The recent price spikes in natural gas did not get good marks from millions of consumers around the world, including Europe,” Birol said in a thinly veiled reference to Russia. “I am not sure the current gas prices are in the benefit of the gas producers.”
Yet if current gas prices are not beneficial for “gas producers”, then Birol—and Europe—should be celebrating as excessive natural gas prices would likely speed up the buildup of renewable power generation capacity. Oddly enough, the head of the IEA seems to have missed this considerable advantage of high gas prices, unlike Energy Aspects’ Amrita Sen, who last month wrote in an op-ed for the FT that we should embrace higher oil prices as they would motivate acceleration in the shift to low-carbon energy.
Forbes energy contributor Llewelyn King put it more bluntly. “If Russia is to blame—which prima facie appears to be the case, as Europe gets fully half its natural gas from Russia—then the Europeans are to blame too,” he wrote earlier this week. “The gas buyers of Europe and their political masters bet that Russia needed their market more than they needed Russia’s gas. It was a gamble and Europe lost.”
One of the reasons those buyers may have thought Russia needed Europe more than Europe needed Russian might just have been a false feeling of security stemming from the massive wind and solar generation capacity in the EU. After all, what were the chances of a wind draught? As it happens, in this case they were a hundred percent.
Now, it’s low-sun season, and Europe would need every last MW of wind capacity to make up for the idling solar farms. It should have become clear by now the EU cannot expect Russia to boost gas supplies every time it wants it to and only because it wants it to. If renewables had nothing to do with the crunch, then a lightning-fast build up of more capacity should eliminate the chances of that crunch repeating. Also, it would reduce the EU’s gas dependence on Russia—a source of so much resentment in the union.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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