The ongoing drought is causing damage to the European Union’s energy production, its drought agency warned today, just as the bloc braces for winter power outages as Russia cuts its output gas supply.
Sky News recently reported the continent faces its worst drought in at least 500 yearsand the situation is “worsening”, the European Drought Observatory (EDO) warned today in its latest monthly report.
In a summer marked by wild fires, crop reductions and the drying up of major rivers, the substantial lack of rain has also had “serious impacts” on the EU’s energy sector, hampering both hydropower generation and cooling systems of other power plants.
“The weather is expected to remain warmer and drier than usual in the western Mediterranean region until November,” warned Johannes Bahrke, spokesman for the European Commission, which oversees the EDO, citing scientists from the Commission.
Several European countries also continue to face rising temperatures and a dramatic lack of rain.
In Portugal and northern Italy, hydroelectric energy stored in reservoirs is less than half the average of recent years. In Italy, it is “still decreasing slowly”, according to the August report from the EDO.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the EU is below the drought ‘warning’ level, with low water levels, or the most severe ‘alert’ status, when crops and plants also begin to suffer.
In early August, nuclear operator EDF cut output at a power plant in southwestern France due to high temperatures in the Garonne river, and it issued continued warnings for reactors along the Rhône.
The water shortage is exacerbating the existing maintenance and cracking problems that have seen half of the French reactors shut downadding more pressure on the European network.
The news comes days after Russian state energy company Gazprom announced it would close a key gas pipeline to the bloc at the end of this month. Natural gas prices rose on Friday after the announcement and are now more than twice as high as a year ago.
Soaring gas prices threaten big problems for European economies
The latest shutdown will come a month after Gazprom restored natural gas supply through the pipeline to just a fifth of its capacity, following a previous shutdown for maintenance.
In Germany, the government has passed a law to bring 24 coal-fired power stations back to start producing more electricity from coal as it faces gas shortages.
The law was passed in July, but only one coal plant has been brought back into service so far due to supply problems.
These supply problems were caused by the inability of the coal barges to descend the Rhine at full load due to the drought.
Ysanne Choksey, policy adviser for climate change think tank E3G, said: “Coal barges unable to support a climate-destroying load of coal on the Rhine due to record drought caused by climate change, stark reminders of the macroeconomic dangers of the climate crisis.”
This summer’s unprecedented drought is hurting agriculture, imposing water restrictions, fueling wildfires and threatening aquatic species.
In terms of crops, “unusually hot and dry weather conditions in large parts of Europe continue to significantly reduce yield prospects,” Bahrke added.
Corn, soybean and sunflower harvests are expected to be 12 to 16% below the average for the past five years.
Climate degradation makes drought in the Mediterranean more severe and more likely, although it is not responsible for all droughts in the world.
The causes of drought are complex, but climate change affects it in two main ways. It concentrates rainfall into shorter, more intense bursts, making it harder to hold, and brings warmer temperatures that evaporate more water.
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