The Weekend Wonk: Europe’s Energy Crunch Shows Need to Speed Transition

September 19, 2021

Above, a perfect storm of outages at UK Nuclear stations (below), plus uncertainties about natural gas, snow deficit and warmth affecting Norwegian hydro, and low winds in recent weeks have all created a crunch in European power markets.


BRUSSELS/LONDON, Sept 14 (Reuters) – Record high power prices in European Union countries show the bloc must wean itself off fossil fuels and speed up the transition to green energy, the EU’s top climate change official said on Tuesday.

Wholesale European power prices have doubled this year, driven by factors including soaring coal and gas prices, surging CO2 prices and lower than usual renewable energy output. 

The EU’s Green Deal seeks to overhaul the bloc’s economy to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – a goal that will require huge investments in low-carbon power and infrastructure.

“Had we had the Green Deal five years earlier, we would not be in this position because then we would have less dependence on fossil fuels and on natural gas,” European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Timmermans said that even as fossil fuel prices have soared, costs for renewable generation have remained low and stable.

That should encourage the EU to speed up its green transition, to ensure more citizens have access to affordable renewable energy, he said. read more 

European carbon prices, which also impact the cost of electricity, have also surged to record highs this year, but Timmermans said they were not the main culprit for soaring energy costs.

“Only about one fifth of the [power] price increase can be attributed to CO2 prices rising,” he said.

The EU carbon benchmark contract is trading at around 61 euros ($72.01) a tonne, not far off an all-time high set this month as more ambitious EU climate targets have helped buoy prices.

A Bank of Spain analysis published last month said that gas prices were responsible for roughly half of the recent surge in Spanish electricity prices, while carbon had caused a fifth of the power price increase. read more 

To bring down soaring power costs, the Spanish government said this week it would cap gas prices, cut taxes and redirect energy company profits. It also plans to auction 3.3 gigawatts of renewable capacity, betting that building out clean energy will lower prices in the long term.

Regular readers know that long term electric storage is a dynamic and increasingly crowded space right now, with a number of leading contenders, many of whom will probably find their place in the coming decade.

Below, important to remember not just the importance of new storage technologies, but also new business models like the virtual power plant model that Tesla is now proposing at scale for Texas.


British day-ahead electricity prices rose nearly 19% to reach 475 pounds ($656.5) on Wednesday, Reuters reported. The contract was already trading near record highs shortly after a fire at a U.K.-France power link cut electricity imports to Britain.

“By far the biggest factor is gas prices,” Glenn Rickson, head of European power analysis at S&P Global Platts Analytics, told CNBC via email.

Higher gas prices have also been a “big driver” in lifting carbon and coal prices to record highs too, Rickson said, although he noted there are other supporting factors at play, such as low wind generation and nuclear plant unavailability across the continent.

Carbon prices in Europe have nearly trebled this year as the European Union reduces the supply of emissions credits. The EU’s benchmark carbon price climbed above 60 euros per metric ton for the first time ever in recent weeks, trading slightly below this threshold on Thursday.

7 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Europe’s Energy Crunch Shows Need to Speed Transition”

  1. jimbills Says:

    NG prices have roughly doubled in the past year. Hurricane Ida has also knocked out a bunch of U.S. gas production for a while. The market is going to reply to this with rising coal use.

    “As a result of the higher expected natural gas prices, the forecast share of electricity generation from coal rises from 20% in 2020 to about 24% in both 2021 and 2022,” according to EIA. “New additions of solar and wind generating capacity are offset somewhat by reduced generation from hydropower this year, resulting in the forecast share of all renewables in U.S. electricity generation to average 20% in 2021, about the same as last year, before rising to 22% in 2022.”

    Meanwhile, all sectors of the market are being hit with increased materials costs, including solar:

    And, the computer chip shortage is affecting EVs, wind, and infrastructure. A lot of analysts are predicting the shortages to last into 2023.

  2. jfon Says:

    Despite the ‘perfect storm’, nuclear is still running at just under 60%, whereas wind, which has three times the nameplate capacity of nuclear, has been running at 5% or less for a fortnight – a ‘perfect calm’. Ireland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and northern France have also been becalmed. That’s an inordinant amount of batteries, if you want to quit fossils.
    The British government should have started building replacements for their gas-cooled reactors ten or twenty years ago – they’re a UK-only design that can’t have their lives extended as much as light-water or heavy-water reactors can.
    John O’Neill

  3. jimbills Says:

    Off topic here, but it’s an excellent article (with paywall, sorry) on the dying salmon population of California’s rivers:

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Seven current and former BP executives spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity and shared their views on Looney’s transition plan. The executives generally supported the direction but expressed varying levels of concern that Looney is moving too fast in trading high-quality oil assets for more speculative renewable-energy investments. Some worried in particular that selling higher-quality oil assets now could leave BP with mostly lower-quality assets, which will become harder to unload later as the entire industry looks to transition to cleaner energy sources.

      It smells like BP (Chief Ex Bernard Looney) is actually planning to eat those “lower-quality” assets as part of the realistic cost of the transition.

  4. jimbills Says:

    And one more here – this is an important read – U.S. climate policy being written by Joe Manchin, who has most FF campaign contributions in the Senate and who personally owns millions in FF stocks:

    ‘The main message was, “Slow down”.’

  5. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    It was refreshing to learn that Tesla slab batteries are switching to something more cost-effective than Li+ (iron phosphorus).

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