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ENERGY

European electricity prices soar as tough winter looms

European electricity prices soared to new records on Friday, presaging a bitter winter as Russia's invasion of Ukraine inflicts economic pain across the continent.

electricity pylons at sunset
Energy prices have soared in Europe as Russia has slashed natural gas supplies to the continent. Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

The year-ahead contract for German electricity reached 995 euros ($995) per megawatt hours while the French equivalent surged past 1,100 euros — a more than tenfold increase in both countries from last year.

In Britain, energy regulator Ofgem said it would increase the electricity and gas price cap almost twofold from October 1 to an average £3,549 ($4,197) per year.

Ofgem blamed the increase on the spike in global wholesale gas prices after the lifting of Covid restrictions and Russian curbs on supplies.

The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, announced Friday that it would convene an EU energy crisis summit “at the earliest possible date”.

Energy prices have soared in Europe as Russia has slashed natural gas supplies to the continent, with fears of more drastic cuts in the winter amid tensions between Moscow and the West over the war.

One-fifth of European electricity is generated by gas-fired power plants, so drops in supply inevitably lead to higher prices.

European gas prices on Friday reached 341 euros per MWh, near the all-time high of 345 euros it struck in March.

The war is not the only culprit in France.

The shutdown of several nuclear reactors due to corrosion issues has contributed to the French electricity price increase as power production has dramatically decreased in the country.

Only 24 of the 56 reactors operated by energy giant EDF were online on Thursday.

READ ALSO: France extends shutdown of four nuclear reactors amid corrosion problems

France, which traditionally exports electricity, is now an importer.

“Winter is going to be a tough period for all the countries in Europe,” Giovanni Sgaravatti, research assistant at the Bruegl think tank in Brussels, told AFP.

“Prices will stay high, possibly they can even go higher,” he said.

READ ALSO: Air-con, ties and lights: How Europe plans to save energy and get through winter without blackouts

Recession ‘probably unavoidable’

A Bruegel study found that European Union countries have allocated 236 billion euros from September 2021 to August 2022 to shield households and firms from rising energy prices, which began to increase as countries emerged from Covid restrictions and soared after the war.

In recent days and weeks, countries have announced energy-saving campaigns to encourage the public to reduce power consumption during the winter.

Germany announced Wednesday that the temperature of public administrative offices this winter would be capped at 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) while hot water would be shut off.

The German measures also include a ban on heating private swimming pools from September and over the six months that the decree is in place.

Finland is encouraging its citizens to lower their thermostats, take shorter showers and spend less time in saunas, a national tradition.

French households are shielded by an energy price cap until December 31 for now.

Industries are also affected by the soaring energy prices.

Factories that produce ammonia — an ingredient to make fertiliser — announced the suspension of their operations in Poland, Italy, Hungary and Norway this week.

HSBC bank warned in a note that “recession is probably unavoidable” in the eurozone, with the economy shrinking in the fourth quarter and the first three months of 2023.

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ENERGY

Danish consumers urged to keep conserving energy to avoid high costs

Although the price of electricity has recently fallen back from recent recent sky-high levels, it’s important that Danish consumers don’t return their usage habits to normal, energy experts say.

Danish consumers urged to keep conserving energy to avoid high costs

Energy prices in Denmark are currently lower than they were in the late summer and early autumn, but experts say that turning heating up to full blast – and generally scrapping measures to reduce consumption – will still result in costly bills.

While prices were high, many people in Denmark adapted their consumption habits in an effort to preserve stores and avoid high costs.

Public buildings and many businesses meanwhile implemented lower temperatures on thermostats, and power-hungry activities such as outdoor ice rinks or Christmas lighting were cancelled or cut back.

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With the weather now colder, energy prices are currently low.

That is partly because Denmark’s gas reserves that serve as an emergency backup are full, while issues at European power plants that exacerbated the crisis have been largely resolved. 

The cold weather and lower prices may tempt many to return to former habits and turn heating up as usual. But this could still see energy bills eventually hit record levels, experts have warned.

“We will have to think about what we use our electricity and gas for and make savings where we can,” Jim Vilsson, senior economist at state-owned energy company Energinet told broadcaster TV2.

“Otherwise, we could end up in a situation where we again risk being short of energy,” he said.

Data from Nordic energy stock market Nord Pool, reported by TV2, show the unit price of electricity hitting 4.36 kroner per kilowatt hour (not including fees and taxes) in late August.

The price was 0.9 kroner per kilowatt hour as of November 20th.

Gas prices similarly peaked in late August and before falling, but are higher than they were in November 2021.

READ ALSO: At what time of the day is electricity cheapest in Denmark?

“Supply wise we are well stocked at the moment. We have got the European gas strores filled well up and they are actually completely full in Denmark,” Vilsson told TV2.

Gas stocks remained full further into the late autumn than usual, according to raw material analyst Ole Sloth Hansen of Saxo Bank.

“We have only just seen gas stocks be reduced and this was three weeks later than normal. So we have lots of gas, but we’re not home and dry yet,” Hansen told TV2.

Consumers in Denmark have meanwhile reduced their consumption by an average of around 10 percent.

“The market is a little better than it was before. But I’m putting extra emphasis on ‘little’, because it’s based on a situation where we expect a relatively normal or mild winter,” Vilsson said.

Increased consumption could help to push current lower prices back up as well as deplete stocks, he warned.

“We have been able to keep prices down because we have stood together and been good at saving. If we go back to normal, we could be in a situation again where we will lack gas, coal or electricity,” he said.

READ ALSO: How do I check my Danish electricity plan and decide whether to change?

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