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IEA chief Fatih Birol warns against stockpiling European gas


A German gas storage facility pictured in September 2022. European countries are trying to wean themselves off Russian gas after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.

Krisztian Bocsi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The executive director of the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday that while Europe’s gas storage for this winter was nearly full, the next one could pose a significant challenge.

Responding to questions following a meeting of the Economic Council of Finland, Fatih Birol said nearly 90% of gas storage was full in Europe.

“I would have preferred European countries to be much more nimble, much…faster, in reacting to our recommendations,” he told reporters, referring to the IEA’s 10-point plan on the how to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas after the Kremlin invasion. Ukraine.

“But where we are, it’s not bad and I think if there are no surprises – political and technical surprises – and if the winter … is a normal winter, Europe can get through this winter with a few bruises here and there, but we can come to February and March.”

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At this point, Birol said storage levels will likely have dropped between 25% and 30%. “So the question is how do you go from 25% or 30% to, again, [for the] Winter 2023… 80-90%?”

“What helped us this time, [is that] we still imported gas from Russia in the last few months,” he said. Moreover, China imported “less gas than it otherwise would have” due to what Birol called “very sluggish economic performance.”

The scenario, Birol said, could change in 2023, especially when it comes to China. “Next year, if Chinese gas imports increase with the recovery of the Chinese economy, it will be [a] a few rather difficult months from March until next winter.”

“So this winter is tough, but next winter could also be very tough,” he said, adding that preparations for this final period were due to start today.

Birol’s comments come at a time when Europe is scrambling to shore up its energy supplies as the war in Ukraine continues.

Russia was the EU’s biggest supplier of petroleum oils and natural gas last year, according to Eurostat, but in a report on Monday, the IEA said Russia’s gas exports to the European Union had experienced a significant decline this year.

“Despite available production and transmission capacity, Russia has reduced its gas supplies to the European Union by almost 50% year-on-year since the start of 2022,” the latest gas market report from the company said. organization based in Paris.

“In the current context, a complete shutdown of Russian pipeline gas supplies to the European Union cannot be ruled out before the 2022/23 heating season – when the European gas market is most vulnerable,” the report adds. .

In a sign of how difficult the current situation is, energy company Orsted recently announced that it would continue or restart operations at three fossil fuel facilities after being ordered by Danish authorities to do so.

In a statement over the weekend, Orsted – whose main shareholder is the Danish state – said the directive was made “to ensure security of electricity supply in Denmark”.

Days before Orsted’s announcement, another major European energy company, Germany’s RWE, said three of its lignite, or lignite, units would “temporarily revert to [the] electricity market to enhance security of supply and save gas in electricity generation.

RWE said each of the units had a capacity of 300 megawatts. “Their deployment is initially limited to June 30, 2023,” he added.

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