Energy prices have been going up for months thanks to a combination of factors including natural gas shortages, declining reliance on clean nuclear power, falling wind power output and colder weather.
But earlier this week, the energy crisis took an even worse turn: The price of gas at the Dutch TFF hub, which is Europe's energy price benchmark, skyrocketed 10 percent to a new record high of 165 euros per megawatt-hour after gas coming in through the Mallnow compressor station in Germany fell to zero. At that point, flows were diverted east to Poland, but not before European gas prices hit a new record high.
Meanwhile, amid rising tensions over Ukraine, Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom has been regularly reducing the flow of natural gas to Europe while, at the same time, certification of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been delayed until July at the earliest. And with no additional new flows into the continent, European utility companies are steadily draining their gas stores, which were already at seasonal lows, leaving some utility companies forced to restart generators that operate on fossil fuels in order to keep enough power to grids.
The situation became worse in recent days because France, which normally is a power exporter, has sought desperately to seek imports of energy while also restarting fuel-burning generators as Electricite de France SA, the nation's leading power company, shut down four nuclear power reactors that accounted for around 10 percent of France's nuclear capacity -- all of which has put new strains on power grids throughout Europe as temperatures plunged in the winter chill.
"It's illustrating how severe it is when they're actually starting to burn fuel oil and importing from all these countries," noted Fabian Ronningen, an analyst at Rystad Energy. "All the unexpected maintenance is also causing the extremely high cost of supply, which is reflected in the market prices."
Also coming over the next few weeks:
-- 30 percent of France's nuclear capacity is expected to be offline;
-- Next year, Germany will lose around half its nuclear capacity;
-- Just this week, Germany's power output from thousands of wind turbines fell to a five-week low as colder weather puts additional strains on the grid.
All of which will put Europeans at further risk of being without power or having to pay exorbitant prices for it as the coldest part of the year approaches.
And there is no end in sight, either: Forecasts call for cold weather for the foreseeable future.
The crisis has been months in the making, as EuroNews reported in October:
A series of market, geographic and political factors have coalesced into a perfect storm that shows no signs of abetting as the continent enters the autumn season, temperatures gradually decrease and heating becomes indispensable.
Analysts are already warning the crisis, which is exacerbated by a mixture of temporary and structural problems, will be prolonged and the worst may yet to come.
Earlier this month, cold fronts that stretched through Europe across Scandinavia brought in tons of snow that triggered power outages and hit several countries with lows that have not been seen since 1980 in Sweden, Natural News reported.
"The cooler temperatures in the southern part of Europe coincided with stormy weather over the Mediterranean as well. This also brought big swings in wind generation, which is likely to drive gas price volatility even higher," the report noted, adding: "The higher heating demand could go on to intensify the already fierce battle for liquefied natural gas cargoes."
Green energy may be part of the equation, but it's not the only answer to our energy needs.