Lights out, ovens off: Europe preps for winter energy crisis - worldsnews
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Lights out, ovens off: Europe preps for winter energy crisis

Germany's FRANKFURT (AP) — Offices are growing colder as Europe enters winter in the midst of an energy crisis. Historic structures and statues are becoming dark. Bakers who cannot afford to heat their ovens are considering abandoning up, and greenhouses used by farmers of fruits and vegetables may be left empty.

People are storing up on firewood in less developed eastern Europe, while in affluent Germany, the wait for an energy-efficient heat pump might last up to six months. Additionally, firms are unsure of how much more they can reduce.

The business development manager for the Hungarian burger restaurant Zing Burger, Richard Kovacs, remarked, "We can't switch off the lights and let our customers sit in the dark." The restaurants already utilize motion detectors to switch off lights in storage and run the grills no longer than required, and some of the establishments have seen a 750% spike in their power costs since the year's beginning.

Europe is implementing relief initiatives and making plans to reshape the electricity and natural gas markets as it gets ready for increased energy demand this winter, despite high costs and limited energy sources. After Russia reduced the amount of natural gas required to heat homes, run factories, and produce power to a tenth of what it was before to invading Ukraine, the issue is whether it will be sufficient to prevent government-imposed rationing and rolling blackouts.

The war has evolved into an energy and economic catastrophe as a result of Europe's reliance on Russian energy, with prices recently reaching record highs and swinging unpredictably.

Governments responded by working hard to identify new resources and reduce energy use, and as a result, gas storage facilities are already 86% filled before the winter heating season, exceeding the target of 80% by November. They have pledged to reduce gas use by 15%, which would result in the Eiffel Tower going black almost an hour sooner than usual and businesses and buildings turning off their lights at night or lowering their temperatures.

The severity of the winter and what transpires in China may ultimately determine how well Europe weathers the season. Large portions of China's economy have been idled as a result of shutdowns intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has reduced competition for limited energy supplies.

Early planning, according to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has put the continent's largest economy "in a situation where we can walk proudly and courageously into this winter, in which our nation will weather this."

Nobody could have said that at the beginning of the year, or three, four, or five months ago, he continued.

Even if gas is available this winter, high prices are already causing individuals and organizations to use less, and some energy-intensive companies, like glassmakers, are being forced to shut down.

Fruit and vegetable producers in the Netherlands, who are essential to Europe's winter food supply, must likewise make this choice: close greenhouses or suffer a loss when the price of gas heating and electricity increased.

Green pepper and blackberry grower Bosch Growers has added more insulation, shut down one greenhouse, and tried lower temperatures. The price? Blackberries taking longer to mature, smaller yields, and maybe operating at a loss to keep up with demand even at lower numbers.

Wouter van den Bosch, the sixth generation of his family to assist operate the firm, stated, "We want to stay on the market, not to damage the reputation that we have established over the years." We are in a state of survival.

Kovacs, Grower van den Bosch, and bakers in Frankfurt, Germany, like Andreas Schmitt, are dealing with the harsh truth that conservation can only go so far.

At his 25 Cafe Ernst bakeries, Schmitt is using fewer ovens to heat up, running them longer to save startup energy, limiting the types of pastries he offers to guarantee that the ovens are always full, and storing less dough to lower refrigeration expenses. That might reduce an energy expense that would increase from 300,000 euros year to 1.1 million euros the next year by 5–10%.

It won't change the world, he declared. "The energy necessary to bring dough to bread, and that is a set quantity of energy," is what makes up the majority of his expenses.

According to Schmitt, the leader of the neighborhood bakers' organization, some small bakeries are thinking about closing down. According to him, government assistance will be crucial in the near term, but restructuring the energy markets themselves would be the best long-term option.

Europe is aiming for both, but the necessary investment may not be manageable. According to a study by the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, countries have given 500 billion euros to lower high energy rates since September 2021 and are helping utilities that are unable to pay to purchase gas to meet their contractual obligations.

Governments have increased their purchases of pricey, ship-delivered liquefied natural gas, primarily from the United States, and lined up additional gas supplies from pipelines going to Norway and Azerbaijan.

After years of struggle, neighbors in Madrid who wanted to reduce their electricity expenses and support the energy transition erected solar panels this month to power their housing complex.

According to Manuel Ruiz, a neighbor, "I quickly cut my gas use by 40% with very little use of three strategically positioned radiators in the house."

Governments have abandoned Russia as a source of energy, but analysts claim that Vladimir Putin still has influence. Certain Russian gas is still coming, and a harsh winter may make people in some nations less supportive of Ukraine. Protests have already taken place in countries like Belgium and Czechia.

According to Agata Loskot-Strachota, senior fellow for energy policy at the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, "the market is tremendously competitive and every molecule matters." Putin still has this influence, forcing Europe to deal with disillusioned or poor societies.

Bulgaria, the poorest of the EU's 27 countries, is being forced by rising energy prices to reduce expenditure in order to have enough money for food and medication in winter.

Due to poorly insulated structures and low salaries, more than a quarter of Bulgaria's 7 million residents—the largest percentage in the 27-nation bloc—cannot afford to heat their homes, according to EU statistics office Eurostat. The cheapest and easiest fuel to obtain in the winter for over half of families is firewood, but due to increased demand and raging inflation, prices have risen above those of the previous year.

Following the announcement of a 40% price hike in Sofia, the country's capital, where over 500,000 homes receive their heating from central plants, many people started looking for alternatives.

The 68-year-old retired bookkeeper Grigor Iliev and his wife made the decision to stop using their central heating system and replace it with an air conditioner/heater for their two-room flat.

The equipment is expensive, but in the long term, we will make back our investment, he claimed.

Businesses are currently attempting to survive without alienating their customers. Owner of two restaurants in Prague, Klara Aurell, claimed to have taken all possible measures to preserve energy.

"We use LED bulbs, we turn the lights off throughout the day, and we only use the heating when it becomes extremely cold," she explained. We also employ energy-efficient equipment and take steps to conserve water. We scarcely have any other options. The only option left is to raise prices. That is the situation.

Budapest's upscale Babushka Artisanal Bakery, which serves high-end baked goods, had to 10% increase its costs. Despite Hungary having its warmest summer on record, the bakery utilized less air conditioning and is making sure the ovens don't run without any bread in them.

Although there is now enough traffic to keep it running, additional increases in energy prices might endanger its profitability, according to owner Eszter Roboz.

"A two-fold rise in energy expenses still fits into the way our organization operates and the calculations we do," she added. However, if the rise is three to four times larger, we must seriously consider if we can keep doing this.

From Budapest, Hungary, Spike, Janicek, and Prague, respectively, and Sofia, Bulgaria, for Toshkov. Irene Yagüe, a videojournalist, contributed from Madrid.