European fuel shortage fears set in – The UK has put the public on notice that the chances of gas scarcity this winter has risen significantly, triggering the plan by the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator to prioritize heating over electricity in the household.
In the bitterly cold winter months there are now major fears that gas supplies are set to fall short of consumer demand.
But this may just be the beginning in terms of energy supplies. Speaking at a summit of government leaders in Prague, French President Emmanuel Macron said that 2023/2024 winter will be even harder for Europeans than the coming winter.
The European Commission has already discussed potential strategies to cap gas prices across the continent amid the energy crisis. However, reports have emerged of division among member states about the emergency measures.
In any case, a new report by the International Energy Agency says households across the continent must bring the heating down and adjust their boilers as part of measures that are needed in preparation of Russian gas supplies being completely cut off.
“The complete shutdown of Russian pipeline gas supplies to the European Union cannot be excluded ahead of the 2022/23 heating season – when the European gas market is at its most vulnerable,” the agency wrote in its quarterly gas report.
Russia blames Western sanctions on its energy sector, in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict, for disrupting flows. Moscow says the punitive measures have led to maintenance issues on the main Nord Stream 1 pipeline, pumping gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The UK’s National Grid’s Electricity System Operator has revealed the power cut measure is an update on the UK’s state of energy readiness for the winter. The operator is calling on the public to help out by taking measures such as saving energy during peak hours and signing up to an energy-saving scheme with their supplier.
Coal generators, which the operator said would have otherwise closed, will be used in a bid to help ease the risk of the lights going out. The UK relies heavily on gas to generate its electricity supplies.
Adam Bell, the former chief of energy strategy at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has warned that in “a very cold January, we’re unable to import power from the continent, we can’t get more gas because everywhere in Europe is demanding it as well and this means that we have to shut down some of our gas power stations.”
He says the country cannot prepare for this situation now because of little capacity to store gas, adding, “We can store some gas but not enough to cover a week or a fortnight.”
This comes as countries across the European Union have agreed to voluntary cut back on gross electricity consumption by 10% along with a mandatory reduction of 5% during peak hours. The decision has been described as “extraordinary measures”.
The European Council said: “Member states will identify 10% of their peak hours between 1 December 2022 and 31 March 2023 during which they will reduce the demand.”
The war in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions on Russian gas have cut Moscow’s gas supplies to Europe considerably. Before the outbreak of the war, the EU relied on 40% of its gas supplies from Russia and it is now scrambling for alternative supplies.
Analysts have been accusing the 27-nation bloc of acting as an American proxy as it did very little to avoid the conflict in Eastern Europe and it is European families that are paying the costs of the energy crisis.
Washington, which has long been a staunch opponent of Russian gas supplies to Europe, is now preparing to ship its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the continent to replace the Russian.
However, critics have accused American companies of making too much profit for the supply of LNG, something that has been echoed by the Germany economy minister who accused the U.S. of charging “astronomical” prices for their supplies.
Speaking to German media, Robert Habeck said, “Some countries, including friendly ones, sometimes achieve astronomical prices [for their gas]. Of course, that brings with it problems that we have to talk about.” He has called for more solidarity from the U.S. toward its allies in Europe that are being starved from their main source of natural gas.
The United States contacted us when oil prices shot up, and the national oil reserves in Europe were tapped as a result. I think such solidarity would also be good for curbing gas prices,” he added.
Household energy bills have skyrocketed across Europe this year as a result of the Ukraine conflict but in countries such as the UK have come under some protection from government caps on wholesale costs. But this means the taxpayer will pay the costs for all the wholesale prices above the government cap level.
Amid rising record inflation levels as a result of the energy crisis, the British government of Liz Truss has come under fire from the International Monetary Fund for its contradictory economic and monetary policies. The IMF has said “avoiding indiscriminate fiscal support is critical.”
Using price controls should be minimized in favor of offering direct support low and middle-income families, it has added.
Meanwhile, one leading campaign group has said that disabled people are being used as “collateral damage” amid rising inflation. Dan White, one of the leads at the Disability Poverty Campaign Group (DPCG) and DR UK policy and campaigns officer has told British media the cost of living crisis is hitting the disabled community the hardest
It added, “We urge the Government to act to support people now, without delay.
“Disabled people’s energy costs are often higher than those of non-disabled people because we may need to run the heating more (to cope with lower mobility or prevent severe illness due to weakened immune systems) and to charge essential medical and mobility equipment, such as oxygen machines, ceiling track hoists, and suction machines to prevent choking.
“We at Disability Rights UK are hearing frequent stories of disabled people cutting back on energy, food and medication because people just don’t have the money to meet every day essential needs. We are hearing these stories from disabled people and families with disabled children over and over again.
“Disabled people should not be the collateral damage of the cost of living crisis.”
And not for the first time, when there is economic turmoil in the West, there is also economic discrimination against minority groups. New research has found black and minority ethnic people are now 2.5 times more likely to be in relative poverty and 2.2 times more likely to be in deep poverty than their white counterparts.
Despite only making up 15% of the British population, 26% of those in deep poverty are from Black or minority ethnic communities. The report found that progress towards closing the economic gap between white and ethnically diverse communities has stalled since the 2007-08 financial crisis, with inequalities becoming particularly strong since the pandemic.
Dr Halima Begum, CEO of the Runnymede Trust, says, “We talk about this cost-of-living crisis in universal terms. No one is immune from the consequences. However, what’s clear from this research is that some groups are less equal and more impacted than others, including our black and minority ethnic communities.”