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‘Perfect storm’: Belgium braces for heatwave as energy crisis threatens big bills for aircon use

16:38 12/07/2022

A heatwave is due to arrive in Belgium this week, but experts warn against cranking up the aircon as the energy crisis continues to weigh heavily on Europe, now exacerbated by Russia’s recent shut down of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline.

“We have entered a perfect storm,” Mathieu Blondeel, an energy policy specialist at Britain's Warwick Business School, told De Morgen. 

“If it gets hot in Belgium this week, leave those energy-guzzling air conditioners off. The electricity you use is generated by gas power stations, among other things. We'll need that gas in the future.”

Russia says the pipeline was shut down on Monday for regular maintenance, but countries that are heavily dependent upon it, such as Germany, are sceptical and find the timing suspicious. Heatwaves in Europe have become increasingly dangerous: one in 2003 killed as many as 2,000 Europeans a day.

“The Germans are very dependent on that pipeline. They have few alternatives to get their gas from elsewhere,” said Blondeel. “The question now is: will Nord Stream 1 reopen soon?”

The European Commission requires EU member states to have their gas reserves filled to 80% capacity by 1 November, but Blondeel says this won’t be possible if the Nord Stream 1 remains closed.

“According to a recent report by think tank Bruegel, all of Europe needs to reduce its gas consumption by 15% to get through the winter safely with current supplies. Today, we are not at that 15%. Without Nord Stream 1, we face an impossible task,” said Blondeel.

While Belgium uses very little Russian gas, prices are set at a European level, meaning that if a continued closure of Nord Stream 1 sends rates skyrocketing, Belgians will also be affected – likewise if the country is forced to step in and aid a more vulnerable Germany.  

But rationing energy may be difficult for Belgians hoping to stay cool this week as temperatures climb past 30°C. 

Brussels has already activated its heatwave plan, which takes effect after temperatures of more than 28°C are recorded.

Authorities are calling on residents to check in with vulnerable people during the heatwave, such as the elderly or those living in isolation. 

“Every citizen can show their solidarity with our seniors: a phone call, a ring of the bell, a report to our services are valuable gestures to ensure the health of our seniors and to fight against isolation,” said Brussels mayor Philippe Close.

 

Written by Helen Lyons