Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, has warned European countries that they should immediately prepare for a total cutting off of Russian gas supplies over the coming winter.
As part of the contingency measures, Dr Birol has suggested that countries should attempt to reduce demand and extend the lives of nuclear power plants. He has also said that he believes that restarting coal-fired power plants has been justified by the crisis, even though, of course, it means more greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. Recent reductions in gas flows to Europe from Russia, Dr Birol thinks, “are geared towards avoiding Europe filling storage, and increasing Russia’s leverage in the winter months.” The IEA had warned last year that Russia was manipulating gas supplies, though at that time the purpose was not clear, aimed perhaps more towards a faster approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Although countries including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark have recently enacted some stages of their emergency plans to conserve gas, Dr Birol thinks those measures are probably insufficient to meet the threat of a total ending of supplies from Russia.
The comments came around the same time as an urging from Markus Krebber, head of German utility RWE, that European Union countries establish a consensus before winter on the equitable sharing of fuel supplies imported into the bloc. “The real fear I have is that European solidarity will come under significant stress if we don’t sort it out before the situation happens … I’m not so much concerned that we cannot find agreement, but it is better to discuss emergency proceedings when you still have time and not when the house is on fire,” Mr Krebber told the Financial Times. Countries to which imports arrive could be accused of hoarding supplies if rules are not established now that treat each household across member states as having an equal right to supply.
“If you don’t operationalise it then you end up in chaos,” Mr Krebber added, also defending Germany’s decision not to extend the operating life of its nuclear power plants still in operation, as they constitute only 3 GW of capacity. One wonders if such capacity may in future seem crucial.