Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The IEA has recommended Europeans turn thermostats down, and conserve energy, to reduce dependence on Russian gas, until EU governments build enough energy storage capacity to make renewable energy viable.
A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas
9. Encourage a temporary thermostat adjustment by consumers
- Many European citizens have already responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in various ways, via donations or in some cases by directly assisting refugees from Ukraine. Adjusting heating controls in Europe’s gas-heated buildings would be another avenue for temporary action, saving considerable amounts of energy.
- The average temperature for buildings’ heating across the EU at present is above 22°C. Adjusting the thermostat for buildings heating would deliver immediate annual energy savings of around 10 bcm for each degree of reduction while also bringing down energy bills.
- Public awareness campaigns, and other measures such as consumption feedback or corporate targets, could encourage such changes in homes and commercial buildings. Regulations covering heating temperatures in offices could also prove to be an efficient policy tool.
Impact: Turning down the thermostat for buildings’ heating by just 1°C would reduce gas demand by some 10 bcm a year.
10. Step up efforts to diversify and decarbonise sources of power system flexibility
- A key policy challenge for the EU in the coming years is to scale up alternative forms of flexibility for the power system, notably seasonal flexibility but also demand shifting and peak shaving. For the moment, gas is the main source of such flexibility and, as such, the links between gas and electricity security are set to deepen in the coming years, even as overall EU gas demand declines.
- Governments therefore need to step up efforts to develop and deploy workable, sustainable and cost-effective ways to manage the flexibility needs of EU power systems. A portfolio of options will be required, including enhanced grids, energy efficiency, increased electrification and demand-side response, dispatchable low emissions generation, and various large-scale and long-term energy storage technologies alongside short-term sources of flexibility such as batteries. EU member states need to ensure that there are adequate market price signals to support the business case for these investments.
- Flexibility measures to reduce industrial electricity and gas demand in peak hours are particularly important to alleviate the pressure on gas demand for electricity generation.
- Domestically sourced low-carbon gases – including biomethane, low-carbon hydrogen and synthetic methane – could be an important part of the solution, but a much greater demonstration and deployment effort will be required.
Impact: A major near-term push on innovation can, over time, loosen the strong links between natural gas supply and Europe’s electricity security. Real-time electricity price signals can unlock more flexible demand, in turn reducing expensive and gas-intensive peak supply needs.
Mixed in with this horror show of bad ideas is a recommendation which I didn’t quote, that decommissioning of nuclear plants be deferred. But in my opinion this isolated outbreak of common sense was spoiled by the failure of the IEA to push hard for new nuclear plants to be built.
I think it is becoming obvious to everyone that you need enormous energy storage capacity to make renewables viable even on a per day basis, let alone meeting the challenge of producing reliable power throughout a cold winter.
Solar panels are all but useless in winter, especially in high latitudes. You can just about use winter solar where I live, 25° south, but the output of my friend’s household solar system noticeably drops in winter, even at this latitude.
Wind power is also less available in winter. Even in places which are windy during winter, small amounts of ice accumulation on wind turbines crashes efficiency. Active heating seems to be the most effective de-icing technology currently available, but using active heating forces turbine owners to divert power to the de-icing system, which leaves less for consumers. And winter high pressure systems cause bitterly cold, cloudless low wind conditions which can remain stationary and linger for days, or even weeks.
Given the seasonal nature of renewables, winter is and will remain a big problem for anyone who attempts to hit Net Zero using renewable energy alone. I don’t think it is remotely feasible with current technology to build a battery big enough to ensure adequate power throughout the entire winter. Organisations like the IEA can witter on about making sacrifices, but I bet their offices are pretty comfortable in winter.
As energy prices skyrocket and families struggle with unaffordable heating bills, thanks to politicians implementing grandiose green energy plans at the expense of energy security, I suspect consumers are pretty close to hitting the limit of their patience.
Correction (EW): h/t Ken – IEA, not OECD. Apologies for the senior moment.