European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU’s gas supply is “safe this winter,” but there’s danger lurking for the next heating season.
In a joint press conference Monday with Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), von der Leyen said the EU might face a shortfall of up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas next year, drawing on the findings of an IEA report titled: “How Europe can avoid gas shortages in 2023,” which urges stronger efforts to improve energy efficiency and deploy renewables.
Many EU countries want the bloc to cap the price of imported natural gas — aimed at preventing a repeat of this summer’s price spikes that sent markets into turmoil. That will be a key part of Tuesday’s emergency Energy Council, but there are deep divisions over the measure.
A dozen countries want the trigger to be set at a lower level than the Commission proposed last month, but skeptical countries worry such a step could scare off gas importers and also destabilize financial markets — a concern shared by the European Central Bank.
The Commission president said energy ministers needed to find a political agreement on the “scope” of the gas price cap and the “threshold” at which it would be triggered, adding that the cap’s impact on gas demand, gas supply and on financial stability must also be taken into account.
“I very much hope that we will come to a conclusion within the next days,” von der Leyen said.
Gridlock over the price cap is overshadowing other elements of the RepowerEU plan aimed at weaning the bloc off its dependence on Russian energy — like clubbing together to buy gas and boosting the uptake of renewable energy.
Those were the kinds of steps that helped save the EU from “Russia’s energy blackmail” this year, von der Leyen said.
“We are now turning our focus to preparing [for] 2023, and the next winter,” von der Leyen said. “For this, Europe needs to step up its efforts in several fields, from international outreach to joint purchasing of gas and scaling up and speeding up renewables, and reducing demand.”
What makes next year more difficult is that Russian gas exports, which have fallen sharply but are still trickling into the EU, are likely to be completely halted.
“Many of the circumstances that allowed EU countries to fill their storage sites ahead of this winter may well not be repeated in 2023,” Birol said. He added that an economic revival in China could also make it tougher for the EU to buy crucial liquefied natural gas.
That’s why the bloc should speed up permitting for renewable energy projects, promote heat pumps, and incentivize people to cut gas demand, Birol said, adding that such steps are “vital to head off the risk of shortages and further vicious price spikes next year.”