Europe May Face Power Outages as Authorities Prepare for Winter Energy Crisis

Europe May Face Power Outages as Authorities Prepare for Winter Energy Crisis
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels on June 17, 2022. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
Bryan Jung

European authorities are preparing for blackouts, as many residents are facing the prospect of a very cold winter.

The energy squeeze has put governments across the European Union on edge, as the severance of Russian natural gas supplies has exacerbated the energy shortage week by week.

The urgency has been made worse also by the fact that winter is coming.

Russian energy firm Gazprom's move to suspend gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline at the end of last month highlighted the prospect of gas shortages to heat households and generate electricity.

Russia has gradually reduced flows of gas to the EU in retaliation for Western nations imposing sanctions after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The EU also declared that it would ban Russian oil imports by the end of 2022, even without an alternative source of cheap energy.

“We are in it for the long haul,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sept. 14.

The European Commission announced on Sept. 14 an emergency proposal that would require EU member states to cut overall electricity usage by 10 percent, as well as impose a 5 percent mandatory reduction during peak hours.

The plan will raise $140 billion through a windfall tax on energy companies, by skimming from excess production.

 Pipes at the landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline are pictured in Lubmin, Germany, on March 8, 2022. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)
Pipes at the landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline are pictured in Lubmin, Germany, on March 8, 2022. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

The European Commission has already had to shelve a proposal to impose a price cap on Russian gas after objections from some members.

The vote on the proposals will be made at a meeting of European energy ministers on Sept. 30.

"The energy crisis showed us that some European countries made a big mistake when they made a hasty and populist move to close nuclear power plants and thus only further increased their dependence on Russia," wrote Tomislav Sokol, a member of the EU Parliament in a Twitter post.

Winter Is Coming

Meanwhile, U.S.-based shale producers warned Europe that they do not have enough capacity to pump enough oil and gas to fulfill the continent's energy needs, according to the Financial Times.

The threat of a harsh winter could lead to social unrest throughout the bloc, said International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

The threat of no or little heat this winter, amid fears of recession, means that the European Central Bank has to tread lightly in its fight against inflation, said Georgieva, while remaining “mindful of the necessity to keep the economy going” without placing an undue burden on citizens struggling with higher costs.

“There is certainly fear of recession in some countries, or even if it is not recession, that it would feel like recession this winter,” Georgieva concluded.

“And if Mother Nature decides not to cooperate, and the winter is actually harsh, that could lead to some social unrest.”

Countries across the EU have already gave away hundreds of billions in tax cuts and subsidies to alleviate inflation pressures, while pressuring industries to halt production in order to save on energy.

Gas storage facilities across the bloc are at an average capacity of 84 percent, which is only enough if countries cut consumption according to plan over the winter to avoid energy shortages.

Countries have recommended that citizens turn down thermostats and take shorter showers.

 A gas meter is pictured in the cellar of a home in Bad Honnef, near Bonn, Germany, on Jan. 4, 2022. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)
A gas meter is pictured in the cellar of a home in Bad Honnef, near Bonn, Germany, on Jan. 4, 2022. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

Europeans may soon deal with non-functioning appliances, Wi-Fi shutdowns, less outdoor lighting, and, unfortunately, disabled traffic signals in some areas.

Governments are already reducing their own consumption by lowering temperatures in public pools and turning off outside lighting on public buildings at night.

Cutting power to homes if energy shortages worsen is the last resort for authorities who hope to utilize other options first.

Another option is for large energy-intensive companies to reduce their power usage or shut down.

Reseau de Transport d’Electricite, which runs France's power transmission system, said that citizens may have to cut consumption several times this winter to avoid rolling blackouts.

France, which has been Europe’s largest electricity exporter, may have to import large amounts of power this winter while its power utility, Electricite de France SA, is having maintenance issues with grapples with its aging nuclear reactors.

A drought this summer affected hydropower across Europe, such as in France and Norway, another a large exporter.

The German government announced that it will increase its stake in the country's largest utility, Uniper, by more than 50 percent.

Berlin said it is also open to fully nationalizing the entire utility if necessary to prevent a total collapse of the energy system.

Blame on Berlin

There are have been calls throughout the EU to ensure that every megawatt of available energy is squeezed into the European grid during the energy crisis; but Germany has remained committed to shutting off its last nuclear reactors, causing much frustration among its neighbors.

In 2011, Germany pledged to shut down all of its nuclear plants in two stages, shutting down three reactors in 2021 and another three in 2022.

Demands by other EU members that they remain operating have largely been ignored by Berlin.

“It’s the responsibility of any countries to do whatever we can regarding the availability of energy production,” said European Union Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton on Sept. 8, after a meeting with the representative of the German government.

At the same time, Germany grabbed up every shipment of gas it could find by subsidizing large-scale liquified natural gas purchases with billions in free credit, hampering other states in the bloc to acquire gas for themselves.

“The price of gas is skyrocketing. Why? Because of, actually, Germany buying a lot of gas after July 23 when they said this is the second phase of the alarm,” Nils Torvald, a liberal EU parliamentarian from Finland, told EURACTIV, on Sept. 6.

“That’s hurting a lot of our member states, quite a lot,” he said.

Bryan S. Jung is a native and resident of New York City with a background in politics and the legal industry. He graduated from Binghamton University.