ASERAL, Norway — In a Nordic country known for its steep fjords, where water is almost a way of life, Sverre Eikeland descended from the boulders that make up the walls of one of Norway’s main reservoirs, past driftwood that jutted out like something caught. the teeth of the dam and stood on dry ground which was to be deeply submerged.
“You see a zone where the vegetation stops,” said Mr. Eikeland, 43, Agder Energi’s chief operating officer, pointing to a sharp, arid line 50 feet above the surface of the Skjerkevatn reservoir. “That’s where the water level should be.”
“We don’t know drought,” he added with a shrug. “We need water.
It has been a summer of heat and drought across Europe, affecting almost every part of the economy and even its normally cold regions, a phenomenon exacerbated by man-made climate change. France has been scarred by massive fires, and its Loire Valley is so dry that the river can be crossed on foot in places. The Rhine in Germany is several centimeters deep in parts, paralyzing essential trade and stranding riverboats. Italy is drier than at any time since the 1800s, and growers of its iconic risotto rice are now at risk of crop failure.
But perhaps the most surprising impact of the drought can be found in Norway’s usually waterlogged south, where sheep have been stranded on exposed mud banks and salmon have lacked enough water to migrate upstream. Reservoir stocks – responsible for 90 percent of Norway’s electricity as well as power exports to several of its neighbors – fell to their lowest level in 25 years, causing a shortage that has driven up both prices and political tensions.
The summer’s extreme heat and devastating drought, coupled with Russia’s weaponization of natural gas exports — in response to European Union sanctions over the war in Ukraine — have combined to expose the vulnerabilities of Europe’s energy system in unexpected places and in unexpected ways.
In France, warmed rivers threatened the use of nuclear reactors. In Germany, the Rhine is too low to carry the coal the country is turning to to replace lost Russian gas. And in Britain, the driest July for nearly 90 years sparked wildfires around London and left thousands of northern homes without power.
“We call it the perfect storm,” said Steffen Syvertsen, CEO of Agder Energi, who was in nearby Arendal where the country’s political and industrial leaders had gathered to discuss whether the “energy crisis,” as local media are now calling it, required a review of electricity export agreements with the European Union and Britain, or new subsidies for Norway that would moderate skyrocketing prices.
In addition to Russian gas cuts, a surge in demand as the economy recovers from the pandemic, an inability to add more renewables such as wind to its energy portfolio, and the worst drought in years sent Norway’s electricity prices to record highs, especially in the more densely populated south .
As Norway seeks integration into the European market, the resource-rich country, which is a major exporter of gas and oil, is under pressure to keep more energy for itself. “The best way to solve this crisis and gain energy security is to be independent of Russian gas as quickly as possible,” Mr Syvertsen said. “But that’s a big task.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a visit to Oslo on Tuesday that Norway will honor its commitments regarding electricity supplies to the EU. could not spare any further gas exports.
And Germany needs more gas. A severe drought there has reignited talk of investment in nuclear power and dried up waterways crucial to transporting coal.
Germany’s coal-fired power plants line the banks of the Rhine from Duisburg in the west to Karlsruhe near France, but the shallow water means large coal cargo ships can only carry about a third of their capacity.
Last week, Uniper, the main power company, announced that it would have to reduce the output of two of its coal-fired power plants because not enough coal could be shipped across the Rhine to fire them at full potential.
On Wednesday, the official level of the Rhine in Emmerich am Rhein, a town just upstream from the Dutch border, fell below zero, breaking the record set in October 2018. Ships that travel too deep to reach the higher reaches of the Rhine must now stop, unload some coal and continue with a lighter load. Smaller ships tried to pick up slack and clog the waterways.
“We have a lot more ships on the quay wall,” said Pascal van Berk, a dispatcher at the Orsay coal port north of Duisburg, where a sprinkler system to suppress coal dust is running around the clock and workers are loading 150 wagons of coal. to carry to the already congested railway yards. “I still have a lot to do.
France’s worst drought on record also cost the country’s energy production, as nuclear plants responsible for more than 70 percent of the country’s electricity had to temporarily curtail operations to prevent dangerously warm water from being released into rivers.
Many of France’s 56 nuclear power plants were already offline due to maintenance problems. But the rivers that cool the reactors have warmed so much in the brutal heat that strict rules designed to protect wildlife have prevented even warmer water from the plants from being flushed back into waterways.
France’s nuclear power regulator granted temporary exemptions this month to allow five plants to continue discharging heated water into rivers, calling it a “public necessity”.
Extreme heat that has turned lush fields into straw in Britain has led power grid operators to hire more workers amid fears of power shortages.
In Norway, a winter without much snow and an exceptionally dry spring, including the driest April in 122 years, have reduced water levels in lakes and rivers. Shallow waters in Mjos, the country’s largest lake, kept his famous Skibladner paddle-wheel boat tied up in the harbor and prompted city officials in Oslo to send out text messages urging people to take shorter showers and avoid watering their lawns.
“Do it for Oslo,” read the text message, “so that we still have water for the most important things in our lives.” Statnett SF, the operator of the national electricity grid, drew attention to the deficiencies in May.
But the skies offered no respite, and this month, as the country’s water reservoirs — especially in the south — approached what Energy Minister Terje Aasland called “very low,” hydropower producers cut production to conserve water for the coming winter.
The reservoirs were about 60 percent full, about 10 percent below the average over the previous two decades, according to data from the energy regulator.
Southern Norway, which holds more than a third of the country’s reservoirs, is dotted with red barns on green fields and fishing boats along the coast. On a stream in the Agder region, a sign put up by the energy company, like a relic from another time, warned, “The water level can rise suddenly and without warning.”
But recent months have shown that there is danger in the water level dropping, too. Reservoirs had dwindled to their lowest point in 20 years, at just 46 percent full. One, Rygene, was so low as to force the temporary closing of the plant. On Tuesday, the rainstorms returned, but the ground was so dry, Mr. Eikeland said as he surveyed the basin, that the earth “drinks up all the water” and the water levels in the reservoirs barely rose.
He sped his electric car farther south toward Kristiansand, where a large grid sends electricity around the country’s south and to Denmark. In a fenced-off area above the hill, a Norwegian industrial developer was building a data center for clients such as Amazon, which would suck up a significant share of locally produced electricity in order to cool vast computer servers.
This year’s drought has only highlighted the urgent need for a wider energy transformation, Mr. Eikelandsaid said.
“The drought shows that we are not ready for the big changes,” he said, but also “that we will not accept the high prices.”