Aug. 5 (Dow Jones) -- Intense heat waves in Europe this summer are helping to worsen an already severe energy problem.
High temperatures, combined with low rainfall in many parts of Europe, are boosting energy demand and making some of it, particularly hydroelectric and nuclear power, harder to generate. That, is forcing utilities to burn more coal and gas to keep up, complicating the continent's efforts to reduce Russian natural gas use, which is compounded after Vladimir Putin, is slowly closing the spigot.
The need to turn to fossil fuels is also complicating the continent's goals to reduce carbon emissions that, according to scientists, are increasing global temperatures, foreshadowing what could become a positive feedback loop, with higher temperatures further increasing emissions.
"You need to increase gas and coal generation to meet the increased demand," said Fabian Rønningen, an analyst at Rystad Energy, a research and consulting firm. "That's adding more carbon to the atmosphere, which is making the problem worse."
Europe has suffered some of its hottest weather on record in July, with record highs in parts of the United Kingdom and scorching heat burning forests in France, Spain and elsewhere.
Average temperatures in Europe rose faster than the global average between 2012 and 2021, a trend that is expected to continue through the end of the century, according to the European Environment Agency.
While energy consumption in Europe is typically lower in the summer due to longer daylight hours and a warmer climate, very high temperatures tend to narrow the gap. Energy consumption increased by as much as 10% in Germany during parts of the heat wave, analysts said. Underscoring the impact of tight supplies and rising demands, Germany withdrew gas from its storage facilities at times in early July, rather than adding to it in preparation for higher winter use.
In France, the Réseau de Transport d'Électricité, which manages the country's power grid, said that once temperatures reach 25 degrees Celsius, equivalent to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the use of fans and air conditioners rises sharply. In a heat wave, the increase is marked. "It's as if a city the size of Bordeaux is added to the grid for every additional degree during a heat wave," said an RTE spokesman. The Bordeaux metropolitan area has a population of just under one million people.
"The heat wave made a pretty bad situation extraordinarily bad," said Henning Gloystein, director of energy, climate and resources at Eurasia Group, a consulting firm.
Despite the cut in gas supplies, energy companies have not been able to ramp up sufficient production from other major energy sources, analysts said. Many French nuclear power plants are out of service due to a corrosion problem. Wind power has been low in some places this summer. While hydroelectric power generation so far this year is down more than 20% in the first half compared with the same period last year, according to an estimate by Rystad Energy.
Higher demand during the heat wave was partly offset by an increase in solar power production, with record output in all 27 European Union countries, analysts said. In Germany, for example, solar generation in July was up more than 30% from a year earlier, according to data from ENTSO-E, Europe's power grid operator.
But in many places, the amount of solar power on the grid has so far not been enough to offset declines in hydropower. In Norway, Europe's largest producer of hydropower-based electricity, producers have reduced output 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 said. A drought in Spain and Italy means their hydropower production has fallen sharply this year compared to last year, while low river levels in France and Germany have also affected output, according to ENTSO-E data.
Four of France's narrowly operating nuclear reactors had to further reduce output during July's heat wave because of environmental regulations aimed at protecting river wildlife. Under French rules, plants that use river water for cooling need to reduce output when the river temperature rises above a certain level to prevent water that is too hot from re-entering the rivers. But four plants, including three on the Rhône River and one at the mouth of the Garonne, received an exception to continue generating at full capacity because of additional demand on the power grid.
Europeans are now trying to prepare for future power shortages by pledging to reduce their energy consumption.
French retailers set a target of reducing their energy use by 10% over the next two years, and pledged, starting this fall, to dim their lights during peak energy use times, as well as to cut back on indoor heating near aisles that are in close proximity to doors.
In Germany, the Economy Ministry led by environmental politician Robert Habeck launched a campaign to encourage Germans to save energy this summer, including reducing their 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 turned off lights in historic buildings such as the city hall, cathedral and museums. Officials are also turning off some fountains and lowering the water temperature in municipal swimming pools and outdoor pool showers.
"Especially now in the summer months you can really do something to save energy," said the city's mayor, Eva Weber, in a video message to local citizens earlier this month.
-Tom Fairless contributed to this article.