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Triple Bottom Tuesdays >>> What European Power Shortages Signify About Our Fossil Fuel Usage


Picture credit: Mike Marrah


Global energy prices have steadily become more expensive over the course of these past two years, but this is not just due to setbacks caused by the pandemic.


If we focus on Europe, wind speeds have been below average this year, meaning that there was greater reliance on energy produced by burning natural gases to fill the energy demand gap. This has resulted in more coal power plants to come into operation as well. It is estimated that a single coal power plant can produce almost 4 million metric tons of CO2 a year. Relying on these power stations are a massive setback for the European Union’s sustainability goals and initiatives.


Our over-reliance on fossil fuels has made it a challenge for us to completely make the transition to renewable energy sources. “As we start phasing out coal and nuclear capacity that’s been in the system for decades, there’s a risk that prices will have to rise further” commented Toby Couture who is a director at E3 Analytics. We have depended on coal and natural gases since as early as 1880 when coal was first used to generate electricity for homes and industries. The fabric of our societies energy consumption and supply was initially powered by fossil fuels, so when transitioning to renewable energy we need to start from scratch and have solutions to complex problems such as scalability and dependency of different renewables.


However, the transition may be complicated to implement, but also cheaper. According to the research done by BloombergNEF, solar and wind energy is cheaper than coal and gas in many parts of the world. This is because fossil fuel prices are extremely volatile and susceptible to numerous factors, such as geopolitics, oil spillages and even port congestion.


Picture Credit: Nicholas Doherty


Fossil fuel-based energy is becoming increasingly expensive, especially in Europe due to the European Union's tight control over carbon emission regulations. In Europe carbon power plant operators need to pay for every ton of carbon that they expel. Prices have double this year to almost 60 Euros per ton.


The solution to tackling these rising energy prices is not to extract more fossil fuels, but to depend on sustainable energy instead. A prime example of this is what’s currently occurring in Spain. Energy prices have soared to almost 150 euros per megawatt hour. This is primarily since Spain had under invested in solar energy whilst having some of the best sunshine in all of Europe. Spain has tried rectifying the problem over the last few years, but the developments were not ready in time to face the energy crisis.


Many of the European Union member countries have pledged to phase out coal completely by 2025, so switching to densely polluting fossil fuel will no longer be an option. Many countries have pledged to the glamorous goal of calling themselves “carbon neutral” by 2050. But the rise in energy costs in Europe was a sharp reminder that we still have a long way to go to untangle ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels.


September 21st 2021 | 10:45 AM

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