Aug 24, 2022
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Drought and shortage of Russian gas have brought Europe’s energy to the brink

The drought deals a “serious blow” to energy production in the EU amid the West’s gas confrontation with Russia. The continent is facing its worst drought in at least 500 years and the situation is “getting worse,” the European Drought Observatory (EDO) warned in its latest report.

The ongoing drought is hurting the European Union’s electricity production, the drought agency has warned, as the EU prepares for a winter power cut if Russia cuts its gas supplies.

Sky News recently reported that the continent is facing its worst drought in at least 500 years. The situation is “getting worse,” the European Drought Observatory (EDO) warned in its latest monthly report.

This summer, accompanied by wild forest fires, reduced crops and the drying up of large rivers, with a significant absence of rains, has caused “serious damage” to the EU energy sector, hindering both the production of hydroelectricity and the cooling systems of other power plants.

“The weather will remain warmer and drier than usual in the western Mediterranean region until November,” warned Johannes Barke, spokesman for the European Commission, which oversees EDO, citing the commission’s scientists.

Several European countries also continue to experience rising temperatures and a dramatic lack of rain.

In Portugal and northern Italy, hydropower storage in reservoirs is less than half the average in recent years. In Italy, figures are “still slowly declining,” according to an August EDO report.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the EU area is on drought ‘warning’, with low water levels, or the most severe ‘warning’ when crops and plants also begin to suffer.

In early August, nuclear power operator EDF cut power at a station in southwestern France due to high temperatures in the Garonne River and issued periodic warnings to reactors along the Rhone River. Water shortages exacerbate existing maintenance problems that have shut down half of France’s reactors, putting more strain on the European power grid.

The news comes days after Russian state energy company Gazprom announced it would close a key gas pipeline to the EU later this month, Sky News reported. Natural gas prices rose on Friday after the announcement and are now more than double what they were a year ago.

The latest outage comes a month after Gazprom restored natural gas through the pipeline to only a fifth of its capacity since the previous maintenance shutdown.

In Germany, the government has passed legislation to bring back 24 coal-fired power plants to start generating more electricity from coal as the country faces gas shortages. The law was passed in July, but so far only one coal-fired power plant has reopened due to supply issues. These supply problems were caused by the fact that coal barges could not pass the Rhine with full loads due to drought.

Ysanne Choksey, policy adviser at climate change think tank E3G, says: “Coal barges, unable to carry a load of climate-damaging coal down the Rhine River due to a record climate change-driven drought, serve as a stark reminder of the macroeconomic dangers of a climate crisis.”

An unprecedented drought this summer is wreaking havoc on agriculture, forcing restrictions on water use, fueling forest fires. In terms of crops, “exceptionally hot and dry weather conditions in much of Europe continue to significantly lower yield forecasts,” added Johannes Barke. Corn, soybean and sunflower yields will be 12-16% lower than the average over the past five years.

Climate disruption is making drought in the Mediterranean more severe and more likely, although it is not the cause of all droughts in the world. The causes of drought are complex, but climate change is affecting it in two key ways. It concentrates precipitation in shorter, more intense bursts, making it harder to hold onto, and brings higher temperatures that evaporate more water.

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