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Cold Winter Ahead? Fukushima Fallout Deepens Europe's Russian Gas Dependency

This coming winter may become a test for Europe's energy supply. For European countries that have counted on importing energy from German nuclear reactors, which are now slated for closure following the Fukushima disaster, Russian gas imports grow increasingly vital.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Near Karskoye Sea, where Russian natural gas starts it's journey to Western Europe. (akulis2)

Almost eight months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, energy remains a sector fraught with tension. In its annual energy report published this week, the Capgemini European Observer warned of the risk of not being able to secure sufficient supplies in the coming winter months.

The closure of several of its nuclear reactors has led Germany to increase imports of electricity from neighboring countries, with as many as 2,000-plus megawatts (MW) imported daily from France.  “During periods of peak demand, however, France has imported electricity from Germany, something which will no longer be possible in the future," according to the report. This poses a real threat to the continuity of electricity supply during the upcoming winter months of 2011-2012.”

Colette Lewiner, director of the international energy and utilities department at Capgemini, identifies the elements of a possible disaster scenario: a particularly tough weather, coupled with Germany’s hesitation to relaunch its carbon energy sites, and French nuclear capabilities that are less robust than anticipated…” Nothing says that this will actually occur with such severity, but it would be wise to anticipate any eventualities ahead of time.”

Meanwhile, The Observer, an ardent supporter of the global pursuit of nuclear energy, recalls how a policy of having a “mix” of energies is now pointing in favor of gas.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has outlined the curve: between 2011 and 2035, world gas consumption is expected to grow by 50%. For European countries, concerns about having enough supply have resurfaced. According to the Capgemini report, "by 2030, gas transported through Gazprom pipelines should represent 50% of the total supply of gas to Europe." 

To avoid such a degree of dependence on a single supplier it is necessary to increase investment in energy infrastructure. The Observer has already estimated the costs of this effort: 1.1 trillion euros by 2020 (including power plants and transportation networks), even though large companies are currently more concerned about their debt. "A second economic downturn caused by the sovereign debt crisis of some European states, however, would mitigate these problems in the short term: it would, as in 2009, lead to a decline in consumption of electricity and gas."

The current crisis, with operators anticipating a decline in energy consumption, may explain the lower pressure on energy prices today. "But this calm is deceptive. Prices will inevitably rise," says Lewiner. 

Read the original article in Le Figaro in French

Photo - akulis2

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