As Europe Endures Cold Spell, Concerns About Russian Electricity Shutdown Diminish
Last year, the freezing temperatures in Siberia that are currently affecting Europe could have caused concern in European Union cities. They were trying to reduce their reliance on Russian energy imports.
However, there is little concern about depleting reserves this winter as people raise their thermostats to combat the cold weather. The previous alarming statements about potential power shortages that caused Germans to panic and store candles, as well as French villages and the famous Eiffel Tower to turn off lights at night for energy-saving purposes, are no longer present.
According to Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund policy institute, Europe’s energy crisis has come to an end. He believes that even in the event of a harsh winter, there will not be a significant shortage of gas in Europe due to improved infrastructure and reduced demand, which is expected to continue.
Europe used to rely heavily on Moscow for its energy needs, with almost half of its imports coming from Russia. However, due to EU sanctions on coal and oil, as well as gas cutoffs imposed by Russia to some member states during the Ukrainian conflict, Russia’s dominance in the energy market has significantly decreased. In fact, the EU has set a goal to completely eliminate Russian gas imports by 2027.
According to Eurostat, the primary suppliers of oil and gas in Europe are currently the United States and Norway, while the EU also looks to other sources like Algeria.
Demand for fossil fuels has decreased due to a combination of energy conservation efforts, milder winters, and a significant increase in renewable energy sources.
However, there are those who caution against becoming too comfortable. A defiant European Union country, Hungary, has declared its intention to increase its imports of energy from Russia. Additionally, another country, Bulgaria, has found a way to bypass sanctions and continue importing Russian oil at prices that exceed the imposed cap. This has reportedly given Russia a financial advantage in their ongoing conflicts.
Experts suggest that Europe’s shift to renewable energy must be accelerated and approached in a more comprehensive manner. However, some point out that Europe still relies on Moscow for fuel and support for its Russian-built nuclear power facilities.
The Atlantic Institute think tank stated in a September report that Europe is still susceptible to being exploited by Russia for energy as long as it has not completed its transition to alternative sources. The institute urged the bloc to continue its efforts in breaking away from Russian energy and fulfilling its climate change goals.
However, the current energy situation is drastically different compared to a year ago, when Europeans were concerned about potential power shortages during the colder winter months. To conserve energy, French authorities reduced the temperature in public schools and switched off street lights in the early morning.
Germany — once reliant on Russian gas for about 60% of its imports — saw a run on candles and firewood as citizens stocked up, even though chances of power cuts were low. Danish citizens were urged to switch from dryers to clotheslines, and Slovaks from stoves to microwaves.
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Currently, the influential city of Berlin in the EU is shifting its reliance on Norwegian gas and purchasing liquified natural gas (LNG) from the US. This involves leasing and constructing floating terminals for storage and processing, which was not present a year ago.
The chemical and fertilizer industries in the EU are reducing their production due to the lack of affordable Russian gas. As a result, the region is now relying on imports for these goods. According to analyst Kirkegaard, the economic justification for producing these goods in Europe is no longer viable.
The group has sped up its shift towards renewable energy in recent months, as the EU’s governing body has committed to eliminating the use of fossil fuels well before 2050. The elevated prices of carbon trading in Europe have also given companies a strong motivation to move away from fossil fuels, according to Kirkegaard.
In the past year, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen stated that a growth model based on fossil fuels is no longer relevant.
However, opponents argue that the eloquent language and commitments made in Brussels do not always result in tangible efforts in European cities.
Camille Defard, the director of the energy center at the Jacques Delors Institute, a think tank based in Paris, expressed optimism about recent developments and collaborations in the pursuit of Europe’s climate targets. The institute is advocating for increased funding and coordination to ensure the achievement of these goals.
“But,” she stated, “the current measures are only temporary, voluntary, and limited to national efforts, which may not effectively promote European action.”
Not all countries in the EU have the same stance on Moscow. According to Politico, Bulgaria has a way to import Russian oil above the previously agreed limit of $60 per barrel, which benefits Russia and could potentially fund their actions in Ukraine. Spain continues to receive a significant amount of LNG from Moscow, and Hungary’s leader, Victor Orban, has increased gas imports for the winter season.
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that domestic energy assets belonging to “unfriendly” European countries should be taken over, with Moscow determining the terms of compensation.
However, according to analyst Kirkegaard, the overall trend is still evident.
According to him, it is accurate that certain European purchasers are providing Russia with funds through energy transactions. However, this does not constitute reliance on Russian energy – that phase has passed.