Faced with gas shortages, Europe seeks to reduce energy demand

In eastern France, street lights were turned off in a dozen villages at midnight. Barcelona offers home performance evaluation. Warsaw is subsidizing homes that replace fossil fuel stoves with heat pumps.

The war in Ukraine has sent oil and gas prices skyrocketing, as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is showing a willingness to use Russian energy resources as a weapon, and cities across Europe are finding different ways to cut energy consumption.

As the largest European consumer of Russian gas, Germany could be the most vulnerable country Russia’s energy crisis, but many other countries are also facing at least high prices and limited supplies.

The harshness or mildness of the coming winter will be a key factor. A mild winter in Europe will dampen global gas demand, as will continued Covid-related restrictions in China, the world’s largest gas consumer. Conversely, a harsh winter with low temperatures will increase demand and push prices even higher.

But European nations can’t wait to see how the weather will change.

Seeking to accelerate its energy independence from Russia, Italy sees Algeria as a potential new gas supplier, increases its use of renewable energy and burns more coal to power homes and businesses.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned that the country must prepare for complete shutdown of Russian natural gas, said that in order to solve the problem of gas shortage, the government will prepare a balanced conservation plan to limit energy use. He also noted that France’s large nuclear power industry makes it less vulnerable than some of its European neighbors.

“Russia uses energy, like food, as a weapon of war,” he said. Macron said earlier this month.

Elisabeth Borne, France’s prime minister, told lawmakers in early July that France would renationalize its state-backed electricity giant Électricité de France, which generates most of the country’s electricity and operates all of its nuclear power plants.

In Belgium the government reversed the decision phasing out nuclear power by 2025 and extending the lifetime of two reactors by another decade. And the governments of Austria and the Netherlands have taken steps to coal-fired power plants which have either been closed or are scheduled to be phased out. These actions, however, have raised concerns that the European Union’s efforts to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will be thwarted.

Lawmakers in Poland have backed measures that would allow them to increase their gas storage capacity and loosen rules on fuel trading. Reuters reported.

British National Network offered an assessment of its expected limited energy supplies this winter, stating in a report that “while the UK is not dependent on Russian gas to the extent that the rest of Europe is, it is clear that cutting off gas flows to Europe could have indirect consequences, including very high prices”.

The organization, which released an unusual advance forecast to help the energy industry prepare for the colder months, said it would deal with expensive and unpredictable power, as well as any outages, by postponing the shutdown of coal-fired plants.

National Grid also encouraged more involvement in a “demand-side response” that seemed to refer to the possible need for individuals to reduce or accept limits on electricity consumption.