Heat wave hits Europe's energy infrastructure
Europe’s energy infrastructure is starting to strain under the extreme heat that blanketed the continent on Tuesday.
Power stations are operating at low levels to keep temperatures in check, while natural gas pipelines are limiting flows -- just as demand for energy to cool homes and offices rises.
Typically, electricity plants undergo maintenance shutdowns during the summer months when demand falls, but it’s not so simple this year. With Europe desperately short of gas and power prices near record-highs, every bit of available generation capacity is valuable.
In France, which gets about two-thirds of its power from nuclear plants, some reactors have received temporary waivers of water-discharge rules, allowing them to release water used to cool the facilities into the surrounding waterways despite rising river temperatures. In another bid to resolve problems that are exacerbating Europe’s energy crisis, the French government on Tuesday offered to pay about €9.7 billion to fully nationalize power-plant operator Electricite de France.
Europe's gas pipelines are also affected, with the Interconnector linking Britain and Belgium reducing flows for a third day on Tuesday because of high temperatures. Meanwhile Norway’s grid manager, Gassco AS, reported lower North Sea gas supply into the UK’s St. Fergus terminal, citing the hot weather.
In Germany, the Rhine River -- a key route to deliver coal from major ports in the Netherlands and Belgium -- is at its lowest level in years. That means some power plants are not getting enough fuel, threatening to derail the country’s plan to build up stockpiles ahead of winter.
Separately, German utility Uniper SE has brought forward a stoppage of its Datteln-4 coal-power plant, previously planned for October, to July. The move will ensure it’s “well prepared for the start of the upcoming heating period” in winter, the company said. The facility is scheduled to be back online on Aug. 1.
The European Commission signaled that the EU doesn’t expect Russia to restart a key natural gas pipeline this week.
“We don’t expect that it comes back,” Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Tuesday. “We are working on the assumption that it doesn’t return to operation. And in that case certain additional measures need to be taken.”
A halt of Russian gas supplies to the EU could have a catastrophic impact on industry and countries are scrambling to find alternative supplies. Germany is particularly dependent on Russian gas and the squeeze on supplies already has prompted major utility Uniper SE to call for a government rescue.
The commission is due to unveil on Wednesday a plan for coordinated gas demand reduction to mitigate the impact of a potential cut-off by Moscow. It is considering a set of recommendations to member states, including voluntary reductions to heating and cooling use and some market-based measures. The Commission may also seek the right to force consumption cuts if needed later on.