Europe has seen a summer of heat and drought, affecting nearly every part of the continent, and every part of the economy. The heat has meant that energy supplies have massively come under strain from the scorching summer, on top of cuts from Russian gas sources due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The dry summer has reduced hydropower in Norway, threatened nuclear reactors in France, and crimped coal transport in Germany.
France has been scarred by vast wildfires, and the Loire Valley is so dry the river can be crossed in places on foot. In Germany, the Rhine is mere inches deep in some parts, paralyzing essential commerce and stranding riverboat cruises. Italy is drier than at any point in history since 1800, with growers of its iconic rice for risotto now at risk of losing their harvest.
There have been shocks piling up in the aftermath of the heatwave. Some of the most surprising impacts can be found in Norway’s typically drenched south, where sheep are stuck in exposed mud banks and salmon are lacking enough water to migrate.
Norway’s hydropower reservoir supplies are responsible for 90 percent of the country’s electricity, as well as electricity exports to several of its neighbors. And the reserves have sunk o the lowest point in 25 years, with shortages that have driven up both prices and political tensions.
The extreme heat and devastating drought come on top of Russia weaponizing its exports of natural gas. This came in an escalating response to sanctions by the EU for invading Ukraine.
The combination of all these issues exposes the vulnerabilities of Europe’s energy system in unexpected places, and in unanticipated ways.
In France, there is now a threat to the use of nuclear reactors. In Germany, the Rhine is so shallow and dry now that coal cannot be transported, which the country has reverted backward to in order to make up for the loss in gas from Russia.
And the United Kingdom, which recorded its driest July in almost 90 years, saw wildfires around London and left thousands of northern homes without electricity.