Even as Europe deals with its hottest summer on record, it remains fearful that it could face its worst winter since the end of World War II in 1944 to 1945.
Power shortages and unaffordable fuel prices for many households loom large for Europe.
Industrial production in Germany, Europe’s economic engine, is under threat, and governments from London to Athens are grappling with how best to help with energy bills now that the winter is over. Leave it.
Power generation on the European grid was already under strain due to the shift from coal and gas generation to renewables.
Germany shuttered its nuclear plants, worsening tight supplies, and a new reliance on wind energy was called into serious question by last fall’s wind drought, particularly in the North Sea.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in March, things reached a supply-strapped disaster. Russia, through a complex network of pipelines, is the main supplier of natural gas to Europe and all petroleum products to Germany. Now it has stopped the normal flow.
Europe relies heavily on gas for heating and electricity. As things stand, all of Europe is suffering, especially Germany. The country can suffer as much in winter as it did at the end of World War II when the essential fuel, coal, was lacking.
Unknowns revolve around Russia’s war in Ukraine. Here are the possible scenarios:
Russia won outright; Europe continues to embargo and is penalized by gas restrictions. Conclusion: Europe freezes this winter.
There is a political settlement, Ukraine begins to rebuild and gas flows again.
Ukraine pushed Russia to the ground; Russia changes government and quits the fight.
The conflict worsens, and NATO is pulled out. Europe rations fuel, including kerosene. It is a wartime base for all of Europe.
Germany decides it has had enough and makes a deal with Russia. Ukraine has been figuratively thrown under the bus.
Although the U.S. and other gas-producing countries will export all of their exports to Europe in the form of liquefied natural gas, these sources are already heavily constrained. For example, the US has only seven LNG export terminals. They take years to license and build. The same is true of receiving terminals and LNG tankers. Furthermore, most European receiving terminals are in the West, and the most severe shortages are in the East.
It’s too late to change one certainty about the coming winter: high food prices everywhere, including the U.S., and hunger in developing countries. Ukraine has been exporting grain on hold, but those shipments are few and far between. Afghanistan and Somalia are already suffering food crises, leaving the world running on grain provided by humanitarian aid.
The terrible European winter of 1944 to 1945 is known as the Hunger Winter. Get ready to resurrect the term.
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS/Inside Sources.