One of the world’s top energy experts has warned Europe to prepare for Russia to cut off all gas supplies this winter.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Fatid Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, advised Europe to start making a contingency plan in the event that Russia deprives it of all natural gas when it needs it the most, namely in winter.
He said that Gazprom’s recent reduction in gas deliveries to Europe was an indication of its intent to leverage fossil fuels against the EU. Last week, Gazprom cut flows through the Nordstream Pipeline that feeds into Germany, and much of the rest of Europe, by half. Russia cited a technical problem for the reduction, but European leaders believe the real motive is political.
“Europe should be ready in case Russian gas is completely cut off,” Birol told the Financial Times.
“The nearer we are coming to winter, the more we understand Russia’s intentions,” he said. “I believe the cuts are geared towards avoiding Europe filling storage and increasing Russia’s leverage in the winter months.”
His agency was among the first bodies to accuse Russia of manipulating the gas market in the months leading up to its invasion of Ukraine, the Financial Times reports. The IEA is primarily funded by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
He said reopening coal-fired power plants and maintaining nuclear plants that had the proper safety conditions was justified in the present scenario.
Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands have said they are considering reopening coal-fired power plants in response to the energy crisis. This may ensure the lights stay on, but it won’t be cheap, as many European countries have closed coal mines out of ecological concerns. According to Business Insider, the price of coal for delivery in Europe has risen by 152% this year, compared with a 75% rise in the price of gas.
Germany has been criticised for continuing to decommission nuclear power plants.
Countries have also been scrambling to find alternative suppliers for natural gas, difficult in a tighter market.
“Europe has reduced its reliance on Russian gas to about 20% of total supplies since the Ukraine invasion, from about 40 per cent before, according to consultancy ICIS, but has already tapped most options to diversify supplies, such as seaborne cargoes of liquefied natural gas,” the Financial Times article stated.
Birol also warned that governments had not taken sufficient steps to prepare for a worst-case scenario he considered a real possibility—a complete cut off from Russian natural gas supplies. He encouraged Europe to save all the gas it could now to ensure supplies for winter. He also foresaw gas rationing as a possible necessity.
Denmark, which will soon be deprived of Russian natural gas for refusing to pay in rubles, announced that rationing could go into effect to save supplies for winter if the situation escalates. Several other European countries have proposed or triggered energy emergency plans, according to Business Insider, but they are not explicit about rationing.