There are dire forecasts for the winter in Europe. The forecasts aren’t about the weather, specifically, but more about the ability of Europeans to stay warm and European factories to operate when the temperature drops and energy supply problems reach a crisis point.
An article recently published in Fortune outlines the issues. Many European countries made the decision to rely on Russian natural gas as one of their primary energy sources. When it invaded the Ukraine, Russia provided 40 percent of the natural gas for the 27 countries in the European Union. Some European countries then responded to the invasion by stopping purchases of Russian natural gas, while others were cut off by Vladimir Putin.
Obviously, losing 40 percent of a primary energy source–natural gas is the second most popular energy source in Europe behind oil–puts a dent in your energy policy. And, as the Starks are fond of saying, “winter is coming.” Prices have skyrocketed to historical record levels. The cost of electricity has already tripled in some places, and governments are scrambling to reopen coal-fired and nuclear power plants that were shuttered in moving toward “green” energy. The EU countries also are looking to other, non-Russian sources, but they don’t yet have the infrastructure, such as pipelines and processing terminals, needed to use the alternative suppliers. Building that infrastructure can’t happen overnight.
That means there is an immediate energy crunch, and the experts consulted by Fortune paint a bleak and alarming picture of what might happen when the snow falls. They say that world energy supplies are so precarious right now that any increase in demand could cause even bigger price spikes, mandatory rationing, and mass shutdowns of factories and businesses, “devastating European economies with a wave of unemployment, high prices, and in all likelihood public unrest and divisions between European nations.” That’s petty scary stuff. Some European factories have already stopped or reduced operations, and some countries have already instituted some energy conservation policies to try to preserve supplies in advance of the winter. The rubber won’t really meet the road, however, until the cold weather hits and energy demand increases in response.
So let’s all hope that the European winter is mild, and our friends overseas aren’t left to shiver in the cold and dark. But praying for warm weather isn’t exactly sound energy policy. What has happened in Europe should cause our government, and every government, to take a careful look at their energy policies and focus on making sure that energy supplies are secure. That means reducing dependence on unreliable energy sources–like Russia–and taking steps like building nuclear power plants and pipelines to provide domestic sources of energy that won’t be turned off when winter comes.