Gas crisis: the EU unveils its plan to face next winter

Gas crisis: the EU unveils its plan to face next winter

The gas crisis is prompting the European Commission to propose this Wednesday (July 20) to introduce a new target for a temporary 15% reduction in Member States’ gas consumption, with the possibility of making this target binding in the event of an emergency. .

“We have to be proactive. We must prepare for a possible total disruption of Russian gas supply — and that is a likely scenario”said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

In a communication released last week by EURACTIV titled “Saving energy for a safe winter” and presented this Wednesday (July 20) to Member States, the European Union (EU) is planning emergency measures to reduce energy demand.

The plan proposes a voluntary gas demand reduction target of 15%, from August 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023. The target would become binding if the situation deteriorates. By the end of September, EU countries should have updated their national contingency plans with measures to achieve the target.

The fill level of gas stocks in Europe is currently just below 65%, according to Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson. She warned, however, that Russian gas cuts could jeopardize the EU’s chances of reaching its 80% stockpiling target by November.

“If our demand reduction target is not ambitious enough, we risk ending the winter with empty stocks, which it would be impossible to fill again in time for the next heating season”she said, adding that the 15% reduction target “will significantly reduce security risks”.

Reduction and limitation plans

According to the EU executive, “the energy saved in summer is energy available for winter”. The measures it suggests mirror those of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and include measures such as setting air conditioning systems to a higher temperature in summer.

At the start of the heating season in October, national governments will also have to save gas by asking households to lower their thermostats by 1°C and by imposing a reduction in the heating of public buildings, offices and commercial buildings. .

In the event of a severe gas shortage, industry will be the first to be affected. On the other hand, essential services, such as the production of electricity, will probably be favored and preserved.

Households and essential public services, such as schools and hospitals, will be the last to suffer cuts, as they are “protected consumers” under European law.

“Households are protected consumers and there should be no risk of cuts for anyone. heating, [pour] households supplied with gas, is preserved, but everyone can and must save gas. » said Ms. Simson.

“We will continue to promote the ideas set out in the EU energy saving plan and ask all Member States to launch awareness campaigns to encourage gas behavior”.

Market measures, such as auctions or calls for tenders for industrial consumers, can also reduce gas consumption by offering compensation in exchange for a reduction in demand.

Thus, the French distribution groups Auchan, E.Leclerc, Carrefour and others pledged on Monday to reduce their electricity consumption in the event of peak demand by turning off the lights after closing and lowering the intensity of the electricity. lighting in their warehouses and distribution stores.

Back to coal?

Separately, the European Commission is also advocating for countries to switch faster to renewables and use other energy sources for power generation, including coal in the short term.

Fuel switching measures, however, must be designed in a way that does not jeopardize the EU’s 2030 decarbonisation targets. The European Commission considers switching to coal, oil or nuclear to be a temporary measure, “as long as it avoids long-term carbon lock-in”.

Despite the Commission’s prioritization of renewables, some fear the plan could derail Europe’s achievement of its climate goals.

According to Adeline Rochet, of the environmentalist think tank E3G, “by dint of rushing into gas reductions, we end up slowing down the transition as a whole. »

“These one-off measures are clearly insufficient for households, which mainly end up with information campaigns. There are no measures to cushion the social consequences of high risks of increasing energy poverty, no plans to accelerate renovation or overcome bottlenecks in supply chains, etc. »she added.

Some, however, are more in favor of this project. The European Commission’s plan is a step in the right direction, according to Simone Tagliapietra, research fellow at think tank Bruegel. However, the plan requires serious and direct communication with the public, he adds.

“In addition, countries need to ensure that all consumers have good incentives to reduce their consumption. European leaders should agree to stop directly subsidizing energy consumption and instead subsidizing the reduction of energy consumption”said Mr.Tagliapietra.

“Regulatory devices such as speed limits or modification of minimum temperature rules in buildings must be considered. By politically unlocking the still untapped potential for reducing energy demand in Europe, the pressures on the energy market will be considerably reduced”he continued.

Solidarity is essential

EU coordination and solidarity will also be essential to prepare for potentially severe disruption this winter, von der Leyen said. The 2017 EU Security of Supply Regulations require EU countries “put in place the technical, legal and financial provisions necessary to make the supply of solidarity gas possible in practice”.

Yet only six bilateral gas solidarity agreements have been signed between EU countries so far, the Commission said, adding that the bilateral agreements are intended to supply gas to customers in neighboring countries protected by the law in the event of a crisis.

“Some Member States are more directly exposed than others to Russian gas and they are of course more vulnerable than others to the risks of disruption, but all Member States will suffer the consequences of such disruption through the single market”said Ms von der Leyen.

“That is why it is important that all Member States now contribute to the economy, to storage and are ready to share gas with their neighbors in the event of energy solidarity”she added.

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