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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Europe Must Act To Avert An Energy Crisis This Winter

With natural gas storage levels at a 10-year low just ahead of the winter heating season, Europe is facing hard choices from its limited range of options to alleviate the gas crisis.  Governments across Europe have pledged to protect the most vulnerable consumers, as soaring gas and electricity prices are hot potatoes that no ruling party or coalition wants to encounter. But the energy price spike is here, and it could worsen as we enter the heating season in the northern hemisphere between November and March.  

European governments have already announced moves to protect consumers from energy price spikes, including through the energy price cap that has been and will continue to be in place in the UK and a temporary tax cut on power prices in Spain. 

Protecting select consumer groups from price hikes, however, would put more pressure on other gas and power consumers, including industry, Reuters columnist John Kemp notes. If European countries let gas and energy prices rise moderately from already record levels, this would trigger demand destruction, easing the very tight gas market, Kemp argues. 

However, many European leaders are unwilling to let consumers (voters) feel the heat of soaring energy bills this winter. 

Moreover, demand destruction has already started. But it’s not coming from household energy consumption—it comes from electricity producers and from heavy industry. 

Utilities are using more coal and other fuels—where possible—to generate electricity at the expense of natural gas. Increased use of coal-fired power in the electricity mix is in direct conflict with the ambitions of the European Union (EU) and the UK to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.  

Sweden, one of the EU members with the greenest electricity mix in the bloc—with hydroelectric, nuclear, and wind power dominant—has seen the Karlshamn fuel oil power plant running in recent weeks due to the record power prices, although there are no shortages of electricity in the country.

The UK, which has pledged to phase out coal-fired power generation by October 2024, had to fire up earlier this month an old coal plant that was on standby in order to meet its electricity demand. 

So far this month, the share of coal in Britain’s electricity mix—albeit below 3 percent—has been more than double compared to the below-1-percent share in September 2020. 

UK power company Drax could have its last two coal-fired plants in the country operating beyond the 2022 deadline that it had set for closure if the government asks it to keep them operational amid the energy crisis, Drax’s CEO Will Gardiner told the Financial Times this week.

Related: Bearish Hedge Fund Manager: ‘Nothing Can Save Oil’

Demand destruction in the industry is also underway. Industries across Europe are scaling back operations due to record natural gas and power prices, threatening to deal a blow to the post-COVID recovery. 

Fertilizer and ammonia production in Europe has been curtailed as “downstream European gas markets suffered further financial pain with new record spot gas highs” this week, Ben Samuel at Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS) noted on Thursday. 

CF Industries, a manufacturer of hydrogen and nitrogen products, said last week that it was halting operations at both its Billingham and Ince manufacturing complexes in the UK due to high natural gas prices. 

The Billingham plant makes carbon dioxide (CO2)—an essential supply to the food sector. So, the UK government secured a short-term deal with the company, which produces 60 percent of the UK’s CO2, to ensure the continued supply to businesses. 

“Industrial shutdowns will reduce demand, helping limit further upside to prices. Switching from gas to coal in the European power mix also cuts gas demand, but this can then be counter-balanced by increased emissions prices that prompt switching back to gas,” ICIS’s Alex Froley wrote this week. 

The gas crunch and price spike showed once again that Europe—and everyone pushing for ‘no more fossil fuels ASAP’—should consider market realities before indulging in ‘100-percent renewables’ fantasies. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA)—which has suggested that a net-zero by 2050 world wouldn’t need new oil and gas investment after 2021—said this week, commenting on the surging gas and power price:

“The links between electricity and gas markets are not going to go away anytime soon. Gas remains an important tool for balancing electricity markets in many regions today.”  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on September 26 2021 said:
    Having established that the real reasons behind the European Union’s (EU) energy crisis are ineptitude and politicizing energy, the only way then for the EU to avert a severe crisis this winter is to issue immediately a temporary operational licence for Nord Stream 2 to enable it to bring 50 billion cubic metres (bcm) of additional Russian gas supplies to the EU.

    And while industrial shutdowns might help ease the crisis temporarily, their impact on the economy could be very adverse. Therefore, they should be discounted.

    Europe’s crisis has demonstrated irrevocably that ditching fossil fuels to achieve a rapid energy transition and net-zero emissions by 2050 is a fantasy.

    It also demonstrated that the EU needs Russia far more than Russia needs it. It can’t replace Russian gas shipments while Russia has all the options it needs. It can easily shift its earmarked supplies to the EU to China instead and also to Japan and India as well.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • George Doolittle on September 26 2021 said:
    The friggin *euro* is worthless is the problem not some mystical "energy shortage."

    Europe is in the midst of a raging recession and they need stupendous amounts of physical US cash dollars because they refuse to stop hyperinflating the currency.

    No US based Bank has any interest in lending to Europe or pretty much anyone else besides the USA at the moment as none of the money is any good save for possibly Bitcoin which is now legal in Ukraine.

    Oddly enough the economies between Russia and Germany are booming at the moment possibly because of the US military presence in both Estonia and Romania keeping the movement and trade of goods along this Axis stable...but that is pure speculation at the moment.

    To get US Dollars these ahem "European economies" ahem will have to start selling product directly into the US economy.

    Good luck with that.
  • Kay Uwe Boehm on September 27 2021 said:
    Maybe FRG should simply stop to turn off all nuclear power until end of year and use own brown coal for 300 years and simply buy more gas if cheap next spring & summer normally about 50% from norway in EU 25% still at top production level added already gas from aserbaidschan and whole world over 36 LNG terminals in europe with much gas in north and mediterian sea of israel, turkey, greece etc. and fracking in france, england, FRG etc.
  • James Hilden-Minton on September 27 2021 said:
    Hmm, natural gas is not looking like a particularly good bridge fuel.

    A bridge fuel is supposed to back up renewable while they scale up. But in moments like this, we see the blaming renewables for its own inability to be a true backup, while coal and oil have bail out failing natural gas supplies.

    What good is a bridge if it crumbles when you need it?

Leave a comment




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