Live updates from Ukraine: European countries brace for winter energy crisis

Credit…Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

In the east of France, a dozen villages turned off their streetlights at midnight. Barcelona offers home energy efficiency assessments. Warsaw subsidizes homes that replace fossil fuel stoves with heat pumps.

With the war in Ukraine spurring soaring oil and gas prices and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin showing his willingness to use Russian energy resources as a weapon, cities across Europe are finding different ways to reduce their energy consumption.

As Europe’s largest consumer of Russian gas, Germany is perhaps the country most vulnerable to Russia’s energy crisis, but many other countries also face, at a minimum, high prices and limited supplies.

The severity or mildness of the coming winter will be a determining factor. A mild winter in Europe would reduce global gas demand, as would continued Covid-related lockdowns in China, which is the world’s largest gas consumer. Conversely, a harsh winter with biting temperatures would increase demand, and send prices even higher.

But European nations are eager to see how the weather presents itself.

Seeking to accelerate its energy independence from Russia, Italy has looked to Algeria as a potential new gas supplier, stepped up renewable energy sources and burned more coal to keep houses lit and businesses in operation.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has warned the country should prepare for a complete cut off of Russian natural gas, said to tackle the gas shortage, the government would prepare a measured conservation plan to limit energy consumption . He also noted that France’s large nuclear industry makes it less vulnerable than some of its European neighbors.

“Russia uses energy, like it uses food, as a weapon of war,” Macron said earlier this month.

Élisabeth Borne, the French Prime Minister, told lawmakers in early July that France would renationalise its state-backed electricity giant Électricité de France, which produces most of the country’s electricity and operates all of its power plants. nuclear.

In Belgium, the government reversed its decision to phase out nuclear power by 2025 and extended the life of two reactors for another decade. And the Austrian and Dutch governments have taken steps to switch to coal-fired power plants that had been shut down or were scheduled to be shut down. These actions, however, have raised fears that the European Union’s efforts to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 may be sidetracked.

Polish lawmakers have backed moves that would allow them to increase gas storage capacity and loosen fuel-swap rules, Reuters reported.

Britain’s National Grid offered an assessment of its expected tight energy supply this winter, saying in a report that “although Britain is not dependent on Russian gas to the extent that the rest of Europe is, it is clear that stopping gas flows to Europe could have repercussions, in particular very high prices.

The organization, which released an unusual early forecast to help the energy industry prepare for the colder months ahead, said it would face costly and unpredictable energy, as well as any blackouts , by delaying the closure of coal-fired power plants.

National Grid also encouraged greater participation in “demand-side response”, which seemed to refer to the possible need for individuals to reduce or accept limits on electricity use.

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