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    Heat waves in Europe force return to coal and natural gas

    August 1, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras


      This summer's intense heat waves in Europe are contributing to a major energy problem.

      High temperatures, combined with low rainfall in many parts of Europe, are increasing energy demand and making it difficult to generate power, especially hydroelectric and nuclear. This is forcing utilities to burn more coal and gas to keep pace, complicating the continent's efforts to reduce Russian natural gas consumption as President Vladimir Putin is slowly turning off the tap.

      The need to turn to fossil fuels is also complicating the continent's goals to reduce carbon emissions that scientists say are increasing global temperatures, which could become a constant positive feedback loop with higher temperatures further increasing emissions.

      "You have to increase gas and coal generation to meet the increased demand," says Fabian Rønningen, an analyst with research and consulting firm Rystad Energy. "That's adding more carbon to the atmosphere, which exacerbates the problem," he adds.

      This month, Europe has suffered some of the highest temperatures on record, with record highs in parts of the United Kingdom and overwhelming heat scorching forests in France, Spain and other countries.

      Temperatures in Europe rose faster than the global average between 2012 and 2021, a trend that is expected to continue until the end of the century, according to the European Environment Agency.

      Although energy consumption in Europe is typically lower in summer due to longer daylight hours and mild temperatures, very high temperatures tend to narrow the gap. Energy consumption rose by as much as 10% in Germany during parts of the heat wave, analysts said. To underscore the impact of tight supplies and rising demand, Germany withdrew, at times, gas from its storage facilities earlier this month, rather than adding to it to prepare for higher usage during the winter.

      In France, the Réseau de Transport d'Électricité (RTE), which manages the country's electricity grid, says that once temperatures reach 25 degrees Celsius - equivalent to 77 degrees Fahrenheit - the use of fans and air conditioners increases sharply. During a heat wave, the increase is noticeable. "It's as if a city the size of Bordeaux adds to the power grid for every additional degree (Celsius)" during a heat wave, said an RTE representative. The Bordeaux metropolitan area has a population of at least one million.

      "The heat wave took the situation from very bad to extraordinarily bad," said Henning Gloystein, director of energy, climate and resources at consultancy Eurasia Group.

      According to analysts, despite the cut in gas supplies, energy companies have not been able to sufficiently increase production from other major energy sources. Many French nuclear power plants are out of service due to a corrosion problem. Wind power has been scarce in some places this summer, and hydroelectric power generation is down more than 20% in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2021, according to an estimate by Rystad Energy.

      In the experts' view, the increase in demand during the heat wave was partly offset by the increase in solar power production, which hit a record high in all 27 European Union countries two weeks ago. In Germany, for example, solar generation in July was up more than 30% year-on-year, according to data from ENTSO-E, the European grid operator.

      But in many places the amount of solar power on the grid has so far not been enough to offset the decline in hydropower. In Norway, Europe's largest producer of hydropower electricity, manufacturers have cut production to save water for the winter. "It has been one of the worst years for hydropower in Norway," Rønningen said. "Storage levels in Norwegian dams and reservoirs are near historic lows," he explained. Drought in Spain and Italy has led to a sharp decline in hydropower production this year compared to last, while low river levels in France and Germany have also affected output, according to ENTSO-E data.

      Four of France's remaining nuclear reactors in operation were on the verge of reducing output during last week's heat wave, due to environmental regulations aimed at protecting river wildlife. Under French rules, plants that use river water for cooling must reduce output when the temperature of the river exceeds a certain level, to prevent water that is too hot from re-entering the river. However, four plants, three of them on the Rhone and one at the mouth of the Garonne, were allowed to continue generating at full capacity due to additional demand from the power grid.

      Europeans are now trying to prepare for future power shortages by pledging to reduce their consumption.

      On Tuesday, French retailers set a target of cutting their energy consumption by 10% over the next two years, and pledged, starting this fall, to save light at peak energy consumption times, and to reduce indoor heating near front doors.

      In Germany, the Economics Ministry led by Green politician Robert Habeck launched a campaign to encourage Germans to save energy this summer by, among other things, reducing shower time to a maximum of five minutes and lowering the water temperature. The Bavarian city of Augsburg, for example, has dimmed street lighting and switched off lights in historic buildings such as the town hall, cathedral and museums. Authorities are also unplugging some fountains and using colder water in municipal swimming pools and outdoor pool showers.

      "Especially now, in the summer months, you can really do something to save energy," noted the city's mayor, Eva Weber, in a video message to local citizens earlier this month.


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