Lights out, cold showers in Europe

(AP Photo/Bob Edme)

We still see news coverage coming out of Europe issuing “warnings” about a possible energy crisis, spurred in part by the removal of Russian oil and natural gas from the European market. Concerns are being raised in the United States that the same thing “might” happen here. But this story is much bigger than just the Biden energy crisis. And these aren’t hypothetical discussions about power grid issues that are complex and difficult to explain. The reality is that it’s already upon us. It’s happening right now. In several European countries, the lights are already being dimmed if not extinguished in places. People are being asked to take cold showers or, in some places, not having any choice because there is no hot water. And it’s all being done in an effort to squirrel away any amount of energy they can before winter arrives. The President of the European Commission warned people this week that the time to start conserving and building stockpiles of oil and natural gas was yesterday. And it’s not just going to be Germany and Italy that are suffering. It will be the entire continent. (Associated Press)

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The stakes are high. If Russia severs the supplies of gas it has already drastically reduced, authorities fear Europe risks becoming a colder, darker and less-productive place this winter. It’s imperative to economize gas now so it can be squirreled away for burning later in homes, factories and power plants, officials say.

“Europe needs to be ready,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “To make it through the winter, assuming that there is a full disruption of Russian gas, we need to save gas to fill our gas storages faster. And to do so, we have to reduce our gas consumption. I know that this is a big ask for the whole of the European Union, but it is necessary to protect us.”

And although Europe is scrambling to get energy from elsewhere, any difficulties this winter could be a harbinger of worse to come if Russian gas supplies are completely severed and stay off through 2023, said France’s minister overseeing energy, Agnès Pannier-Runacher.

Germany previously secured a third of its natural gas from Russia. That amount has been slashed in half and may fall to zero before winter arrives. The Germans are shutting off the heat to public swimming pools and showers. Public spaces with outdoor lighting are having a percentage of the bulbs removed. Thermostats in government buildings and public schools are being lowered.

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In the Netherlands, a new public program has been launched called “Flip the Switch.” People are not allowed to run the water in their showers for more than five minutes. Laundry is to be air dried on clothes lines, not in electric dryers. And citizens are being told to use sun shades and hand-held fans to keep cool and shut their air conditioners off. Spain just passed a law forbidding people from setting their thermostats lower than 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer, nor raising them above 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter. No details as to how they plan to monitor and enforce that law have been provided yet.

The country least affected by all of this is France, where they embraced nuclear power years ago and now power more than two-thirds of their grid that way. But they still rely on a certain amount of fossil fuels for other things.

How did we arrive at this moment in history when there is still enough recoverable oil located around the world (with some of the richest reserves being in North America) to last us for at least the next century and beyond? It was all so predictable, but few holding the levers of power wanted to listen. Wind and solar power will not be able to cover much more than a third of any country’s needs under the best of conditions for decades to come. We’ve already tapped almost all of the flowing water that exists for hydroelectric power. But the push to eliminate fossil fuels has driven power grids around the world to the brink of collapse. (Except in China, where they ignore all of this nonsense and burn whatever is handy.)

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Cutting off the supplies of oil and natural gas from Russia into Europe did not cause this problem. It only accelerated a train that was already barreling down the tracks at us. And without significant changes in domestic energy policy in the United State, what you’re seeing in Europe will be happening here, and likely much sooner than you might expect. The oil and gas industry will return to full production and bring new refineries online if the government stops trying to bankrupt them and make their products politically unpopular. But we will also have to be willing to invest in modernizations that give us a smarter power grid that is more secure from remote attacks. These are all things that we have the ability to start doing right now. We simply need the political will to make it happen.

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David Strom 10:00 AM | May 29, 2024
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