An energy supply crunch tied to the war in Ukraine could cause widespread blackouts in the European Union this winter, an official in charge of managing crises within the bloc has warned.
In the first scenario, E.U. states could step in to provide targeted help — including emergency power generators — to affected countries. But in the case of more widespread blackouts, the European Commission would be forced to draw from its strategic energy reserve, while individual countries would cap their emergency aid deliveries, Lenarcic added.
European officials insist they are better prepared for what’s to come than at the start of the war in Ukraine, with stores of natural gas in the E.U. at nearly 90 percent of capacity — 15 percent higher than the same day last year. Still, more needs to be done to ensure the bloc can quickly respond to “sudden disruptions” in energy supply, and to “better protect” critical networks in the E.U., European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday.
Lenarcic’s comments on European readiness come just ahead of an informal E.U. summit in the Czech Republic, where leaders will debate how to protect critical infrastructure following attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines built to deliver gas from Russia to Europe, as well as emergency measures to control soaring electricity prices.
“The acts of sabotage against Nord Stream pipelines have shown how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is,” von der Leyen said. “It is in the interest of all Europeans to better protect [it].”
Member states will also continue to debate if and how to cap the price of gas.
While blackouts are common in many parts of the world where the infrastructure is not able to withstand surges in demand, they are largely foreign to wealthy European countries — and experts have been sounding alarm bells about what power cuts could mean for consumers, including mobile network outages.
Cities across Germany took steps this summer to conserve energy, including by shutting off the lights at historic monuments and turning off public fountains. In France, luxury giant LVMH said it would turn off the lights at its stores earlier at night starting in October, and Paris has begun shutting the Eiffel Tower’s lights off shortly before midnight, instead of at 1 a.m.
Experts say some of these moves are largely symbolic — the Eiffel Tower’s nighttime consumption of electricity is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of just 56 French people, according to Radio France.
But other effects could hit consumers harder: Last week, Reuters reported that some European telecoms businesses fear power cuts this winter could cause outages in mobile networks. In September, France’s power-grid operator said there will be times in the next six months when it will probably have to ask consumers to use less energy — typically by 1 to 5 percent, but up to 15 percent in extreme weather — to avoid overloading the system.
“The Russian war causes economic and social hardship,” von der Leyen said Wednesday. “Rising energy prices … are leading to reduced purchasing power and they are leading to a loss of competitiveness for our businesses in the international market.”
The war in Ukraine has caused a major upheaval in the way the E.U. procures its energy. Over a third of European electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas. Until recently, Russia was the bloc’s main supplier of crude oil and gas. But Russia has drastically reduced gas deliveries to European countries in recent months in response to the bloc imposing sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, forcing the E.U. to look for alternate suppliers, build its reserves and take steps to reduce consumption.
The E.U. now imports about 7.5 percent of its gas from Russia, down from 41 percent at the start of the war, von der Leyen said Wednesday.
In Germany, the risk of a national natural gas shortage this winter had gone down thanks to gas stockpiling, Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm, said in a note. However, it warned that “short, regional, and controlled electricity cuts (known as load shedding)” were “emerging as an increasing risk, especially in southern parts of the country.”
Load shedding, the group noted, is less harmful to the economy “than uncontrolled blackouts or a gas emergency, as advance notice allows industry and households to prepare for temporary and localized outages.”
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.
Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.