Europe has faced an unprecedented energy crisis since last year when Russia invaded Ukraine and cut off most of its gas supplies to the continent. The soaring prices of natural gas and electricity have strained households, businesses and governments, raising fears of blackouts, rationing and economic slowdown.
But as the winter of 2023 draws to a close, Europe seems to have weathered the storm thanks to a combination of factors: mild temperatures, reduced demand, increased imports of liquefied natural gas (L.N.G.) from other sources, and energy-saving measures adopted by some member states.
According to a new analysis from the Brussels-based non-profit European Environmental Bureau (EEB), only half of the EU countries have mandatory energy-saving measures for next winter, with most remaining voluntary and only targeted at public buildings. The EEB’s research reveals significant disparities across the EU in reducing gas and electricity demand.
Only 14 of the 27 EU countries have adopted mandatory measures to reduce energy use, with Poland, Lithuania, Cyprus, and the Netherlands only having joined this group in the past six months. The most comprehensive gas-saving measures have come from countries previously importing large quantities of Russian gas, such as Italy and Germany. But some less gas-dependent countries, such as France and Spain, have also brought in stringent measures targeting both the public and private sectors, small businesses and large industries.
On the other hand, Luxembourg, Austria, Malta, Nordic and Eastern European states tend to have weaker energy reduction measures in place. In addition, Bulgaria, Romania and Latvia have not introduced any national efforts to reduce gas and electricity consumption in the wake of the EU energy crisis – although that included a third of EU nations as recently as December.
Portugal is the only country reporting transparently on energy savings implementation and progress, setting up a monitoring committee and providing analysis of specific measures, says the EEB.
“Reduced energy demand last winter led to lower energy prices and fewer emissions,” said Davide Sabbadin, senior policy officer for climate and energy at EEB, in a press statement. “This is great, but the question is how we got there. Unusually mild temperatures and sustained high prices cannot replace good policy. Energy-saving measures are more socially fair than high prices.
While Europe has managed to cope with the current energy crisis, it needs to be clarified whether it can avoid another one in 2023. A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that Europe could face a 27 billion cubic meters natural gas shortage in 2023. That’s equivalent to nearly 7% of the region’s annual consumption.
Three main risks could lead to this shortfall: Russia could halt its gas flows entirely next year, cold weather could increase demand, and China could resume its economic growth and import more LNG from global markets.
“We may have a problem,” said Fatih Birol, chief executive of IEA, at a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday. The IEA said that Europe needs to take urgent action to secure its energy supplies for next years, such as increasing its storage capacity, diversifying its gas sources, boosting its renewable energy production and improving its energy efficiency.
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