Column: Wet, windy & mild weather wanted this winter in Europe

A pylon of high-tension electricity power lines is pictured in Donges
A pylon of high-tension electricity power lines is pictured in Donges, France, September 29, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

LITTLETON, Colo., Oct 19 (Reuters) - Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are on track to scale new highs in 2022, but the extent of cumulative gains could be reigned in if Europe averts a cold winter and can instead rely on extensive hydro and wind power for heating and electricity.

Rising emissions is a familiar theme, but emissions patterns have been distorted this year by two key factors: lengthy lockdowns across the world's top polluter, China, and the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war across Europe.

Global CO2 emissions on track to hit record in 2022

China's repeated struggles with COVID-19 outbreaks resulted in a rare drop in CO2 discharge from coal-power generation over the first half of 2022, according to data from climate think tank Ember.

But helping to offset that has been increased pollution across Europe, where power producers and industry have scrambled to replace reduced Russian natural gas supplies with high-emitting coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.


More coal-fired power generation and sharply higher LNG regasification volumes - which generate substantially more CO2 than the use of pipelined natural gas - increased CO2 emissions from Europe's coal and gas sectors by 45 million tonnes, or 4.8%, in the first nine months of 2022 compared to the same slot in 2021, Ember data shows.

In contrast, emissions from the same sectors in the United States have declined by 16 million tonnes, or 1.4%, over that time slot.

Europe vs USA coal + gas sector CO2 emissions

Further, due to greater use of air conditioners in the summer, power sector emissions have likely already peaked this year in the United States, while Europe's traditional peak pollution period still lies ahead over the winter.

This has raised Europe's profile on the global pollution watch list, and makes it the key region for emissions trackers to monitor as we head into the coldest part of the year for the northern hemisphere.


Current temperatures across Northwest Europe - which includes top power users Germany and France - are above the long-term average, and the latest forecasts call for further above-normal readings into early November.

Latest forecasts call for above-normal temperatures across Northwest Europe

That's good news for power producers who have faced unprecedented power-fuel scarcity since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, and have been forced to replace dwindling supplies of pipelined Russian natural gas with pricier fuels from elsewhere.

European natural gas imports by main source

Importers have managed to replenish natural gas stockpiles to try to prepare for greater heating demand later this year, but power producers will be relieved by the curtailed demand for warmth so far.

Weather forecasts deteriorate in accuracy farther out, but historically it is clear that the winter months tend to generate more wind power than other seasons.

So power producers will also be hoping for blustery conditions to kick in, especially in wind-heavy economies like Germany, which in 2021 got roughly 20% of its electricity from wind power, according to data from BP.

Utilities will also be hoping for a wet autumn and winter, not only to quench thirsty soils following a hot and dry summer but to also generate additional hydropower from reservoirs and rivers which have been depleted by drought conditions across much of Europe this year.

Germany power production by source

Recent power production levels from pumped-hydro installations have climbed sharply from the average levels of the last few years, but additional sustained rains and snows will be required if continued high levels of non-emitting hydro power is to be fed into the German power system. Germany got around 3.3% of its electricity from pumped hydro in 2021.

For European citizens, wet and windy weather may not sound like the ideal conditions for a comfortable winter.

But from a power markets point of view - and from an emissions standpoint - greater power supply from hydro and wind installations will reduce the need for further coal and gas burning and save money for cash-strapped utilities.

And with a large chunk of the region's nuclear power fleet operating below-strength this year due to widespread maintenance issues, and solar supply set to drop off as the days get shorter, more wind and hydro generation could also help improve Europe's energy security as the turmoil with key trade partner Russia continues.

France nuclear power capacity was 22% below the 2019-2021 average through September
Reporting By Gavin Maguire; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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Gavin Maguire is the Global Energy Transition Columnist. He was previously Asia Commodities and Energy editor.