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European Action against High Energy Prices - Sarper Göksal


The Russia-Western energy showdowns after the occupation of Ukraine strengthened the approach of "not buying gas from Russia" in EU countries and led to the emergence of new energy sources and the idea of processing them. In addition, the environmentalist transformation-oriented policies of the European Union countries against climate change in recent years have been reinforced with the policies for energy supply security, which emerged in the light of the Russian natural gas refusal and the sanctions imposed on Russia. The energy crisis in Europe may cause the resumption of shale gas production, which was shelved in the past due to the great reactions of climate activists.


As European countries change their approach towards coal and nuclear, the shale gas option may come back on the agenda. To clarify, under the leadership of the European Union, European countries had implemented their plans to abandon coal resources since the late 90s. While the coal consumption in the European Union was about 14 exajoules in 1998, this figure has decreased to 7 exajoules in 2021. However, European countries' tensions with Russia have led to a renewed interest in coal. In 2021, the share of electricity generation from coal rose to 15 percent, and by 2022, the share of coal in EU countries' electricity generation is expected to reach 20 percent; this indicates that European countries such as Germany, France, the UK, Austria, and the UK are preparing coal plans in case of a possible interruption in natural gas supplies from Russia. In addition, the energy supply crisis has considerably changed the perspective of European countries toward nuclear energy. After the leakage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011, interest in nuclear power plants began to wane. At the same time, the EU's environmentally friendly policies, environmentalist public pressure, and increased investments in renewable energy sources have initiated the phase-out of nuclear power plants. However, the Russia-Ukraine war has left EU countries in energy difficulties in a difficult situation, leading to a return to nuclear power plants. The start of planning for two new nuclear reactors in the Netherlands, France's announcement of a plan to build 14 new nuclear reactors by 2050, and Germany's efforts to extend the operating periods of 3 nuclear power plants strongly indicate a return to nuclear power.


While European countries are considering every option to solve the energy supply security problem and tackle skyrocketing energy bills, they are also questioning the choices they have made in the past. The possibility of a return to coal and nuclear in shale gas looks pretty likely. In the past, shale gas production in Europe has been shelved due to environmentalist public pressure. The recent rapid rise in energy resources, especially natural gas prices, and the cost of extracting 13.3 trillion cubic meters of shale gas in Europe has fallen to more reasonable levels than supplying it from other countries may allow the energy crisis to be solved. EU Commission Spokesperson Tim McPhie stated that there is no ban on the use of shale gas by EU countries, giving the green light to a return to shale gas.


On the other hand, while there was a high-priced period in the middle of the world energy crisis, the increase in natural gas prices in Europe exceeded 400 percent compared to 2021, while electricity prices increased by more than 250 percent. Like many other countries, France is one of the countries that has been affected by rising energy prices. French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced they would provide 100 euros of aid to French citizens whose monthly net income is less than 2,000 euros due to the significant increase in fuel and natural gas prices. However, the big problem with the energy supply, which emerged due to both the increase in energy prices and the lack of use of Russian gas, caused the French people to turn to wood stoves and a demand explosion for sawdust fuel. In France, which started to worry about a significant supply deficit due to high energy demands, the fear of energy shortage three months before the winter led consumers to flock to wood and stock up on wood. In addition, depending on the severe winter and the demand, the French Federation for Combustible Materials, Fuel, and Heating has announced that it will prioritize its regular customers in selling wood stoves and sawdust. In short, France has made it a mission to switch to new roads before winter comes since it is in question that the electricity price in the country will see 1075 euros per hour/megawatt as of 2023, breaking a historical record due to Russian gas cuts and energy shortages.


In summary, due to the Russian natural gas shortage, countries have tried to substitute different types of energy for natural gas. When natural gas cuts and energy supply are problematic, the return to coal and nuclear has also increased the possibility of a return to shale gas. However, there is a negative public perception of shale gas in European countries because a large amount of water must be mixed with sand and chemicals under high pressure and given to the ground to extract shale gas. This situation causes the region's people to organize violent protests about shale gas. Moreover, the high demand for wood stoves and sawdust is exceptionally normal, but the death of hundreds of people by poisoning from the carbon monoxide gas leaking from the stove is another issue that needs attention. It is very likely that the wood-burning stove and sawdust heating method, which has come to the fore again in France, will spread to many countries. The important thing at this point is that many authorities, especially their countries' energy ministries, should raise their citizens' awareness to use wood stoves and heating correctly and healthily, and even teach proper usage methods before purchasing these stocks, such as cleaning the chimney.