The European Energy Crisis: Impact and Outcomes

The European Energy Crisis: Impact and Outcomes

The European Energy Crisis: Impact and Outcomes

South Africa is no stranger to energy crises – we’ve been knee deep in one for close on a decade and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Given our predicament, it’s hard not to empathise with other nations who are suddenly struggling to keep the lights on. 

While the European energy crisis seems far afield, we’ve seen time and again that events which transpire abroad have a definite, and often devastating impact on South Africa. So how is this crisis affecting South Africa?

The crisis explained

The current crisis is a perfect storm brewed with a range of ingredients into a caustic cauldron. Much like a chemical chain reaction, it seems that there is simply no way to undo or avoid the outcomes – the only option is to hunker down and find ways to limit the impact. 

The primary cause of the crisis is the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In response to Russian aggression, most of the world imposed sanctions on Russia – and they have increased these sanctions in an effort to squeeze Russia into submission. 

In a nutshell:

 – The energy crisis has seen natural gas and electricity in Europe surge more than 1000% than levels between 2010 and 2020. 
 – The Euro has fallen to its lowest level against the dollar in 2 decades. 
 – UK inflation is estimated to exceed 18% (9 times more than the Bank of England inflation target and levels only seen previously in 1976).
 – The British pound is competing with currency valuation against the dollar last seen in March 2020 and 1985.
 – The US dollar has surged as other nations struggle to keep the wheels turning – this is amplified by an increase in US exports to other nations due to Russian sanctions creating shortages. 
 – Food prices soar by more than 50% as shortages push up production prices. 
 – Supply chains dry up as rising gas prices and shortages prohibit fulfilment. 
 – Analysts predict that a third of UK households will spend more than 10% of their income on energy. 
 – Suppliers who would normally be able to make up for shortages due to Russian sanctions are prevented from doing so due to high energy costs. 
 – The need for cooking oil saw many agricultural providers and manufacturers focus attention on soy, rape and sunflower seed oil production which they haven’t done before, further slowing production and supply – with UK and European oilseed processing falling with 3.2% in June 2022 alone. 
 – Germany implemented their second of a three-stage emergency plan in June, with further industry shutdowns expected. 
 – US natural gas prices increase more than 150% in 2022.
 – Surging gas prices and shortages will see nearly half of US homes – all of whom use natural gas for heating – face increased prices in the coming winter. 
 – EU natural gas stores plummet to a mere 37% in February 2022.
 – Eurozone inflation reach record-high of 5.1% due to 28.6% inflation in the energy sector in January 2022.

Sanctioned sanctions 

We’ve discussed sanctions in previous articles, but it’s necessary to revisit this topic as it’s a major factor at play. 

Our World – a digital magazine discussing topics relevant to the UN and sponsored by the United Nations University – notes that while sanctions are usually imposed under the guise of forced compliance – a tactic to get a country or party to comply with demands of others – it is most often an element of international crisis management dubbed the ‘do something’ strategy. 

This strategy is used to inform the world that something is being done to address a certain event – usually humanitarian or political in nature. It’s interesting that a publication which is sponsored by the UN would criticise the use of sanctions given that UN members are often the first to jump to sanctions. 

Sanctions rarely work, and even if they do they can have a devastating impact on others who are not the intended target of the sanctions. Moreover, sanctions can also backfire, as is the case right now. 

As the platform notes – sanctions should only be imposed if an in depth risk assessment indicates that the outcome would be favourable. 

For the most part it seems that countries generally impose sanctions in haste as a kind of playground bullying tactic – a show of might and spite. As Cornell historian Nicholas Mulder notes, while sanctions seem like the right thing to do as a punishment for Russian delinquency, they are quite dangerous as they could hasten a ‘redrawing of the world’s monetary and financial lines’. This, of course, is exactly what is happening. While the BRICS nations’ intended ‘de-dollarisation’ drive was already initiated more than a decade ago, member countries have upped the ante and are steamrolling towards a new financial system to counter the IMF and Dollar hold over worldwide financial systems.  

A study published by Cambridge Elements: Economics of Emerging Markets called Can BRICS De-dollarize the Global Financial System? explored the feasibility of BRICS’s breakaway from the existing world economic model and suggests that it is not only feasible, but bolstered by sanctions imposed on BRICS members – especially those imposed by the USA. 

Russia’s trump card

It seems rather confounding that the world would underestimate their reliance on Russian resources to such an extent, and yet this is exactly what’s transpiring. The more Russia is squeezed, the tighter it cranks its vice around Europe. 

Part of the perfect storm is, of course, the impact of the global pandemic. The Russia-Ukraine crisis kicked off just as the world emerged from a global two-year slumber. Nations had not only been too preoccupied with keeping their people alive to focus their attention on a looming conflict, but they’d also massively overshot their budgets, leaving them with petty cash to splurge on military, energy and other budgets. 

The pandemic forced countries to rapidly restructure their spending – something which was particularly problematic for the US war machine which had massively grown their military budget under the Trump administration. As with other nations, the country was compelled to focus their attention on buffering the impact of Covid-19 on their people and businesses, but they faced an additional dilemma. With borders closed the world over, the nation which has been involved in more armed conflict than any other nation (226 years of 246 since the birth of the nation) the pandemic also limited the amount of conflict the country could participate in and reigned in justifications for increased military budget. 

For the USA the ballooning military budget is something which they simply can’t contain. They have been at it so long that the budget is not simply about protecting the nation’s interests in far flung countries: it’s about employment and local economy. The US has nearly 1,4 million people actively employed by the military. Additionally there is the National Security Supply Chain Institute in the USA to consider. The NSSCI is frat buddies with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) among other combat support agencies and representative for businesses which feed into the DLA’s supply chain. To understand how complex this network is, consider that more than 2 000 supply chain companies employing more than 92 000 personnel across the USA are required to build and maintain the US navy aircraft fleet alone. 

This presents a rather strange conundrum – the USA purposely catalysed the establishment of such an expansive network of suppliers for their defence industry in anticipation of conflict, but conversely it cannot maintain this network without conflict.  The swiftest way to solve this problem is for a large-scale international conflict to emerge. 

The Ukraine crisis has sparked a massive surge in budget allocation from the USA totalling $40 billion for 2022 to date. Military aid includes:

 – $40 billion + in emerging funding via the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act 2022
 – 90 x 155m Howitzer crafts
 – 700+ Switchblade UAV loitering munitions
 – 1 400+ portable surface-to-air Stinger Systems
 – 121 Phoenix Ghost UAV loitering munitions (developed in secret by the US air force)
 – 14 000+ anti-armour systems
 – 50 million+ rounds of ammunition
 – 2 x surface-to-air radars
 – 200 M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers
 – 75 000 sets of body armour and helmets
 – 14 counter-artillery radars
 – 4 counter-mortar radars
 – 72 tactical vehicles
 – 7 000+ small arms
 – 16 Mi-17 Helicopters
 – 5 500+ portable medium-range tactical missile Javelin Systems 

Other aid includes M18A1 Claymores, c-4 explosives, tactical secure communication systems, night vision devices, thermal imagery systems, thermal optics, rangefinders, commercial satellite services, explosive ordnance disposal gear, CBRN protective equipment, laser-guided rocket systems, Puma UAVs, Coastal defence vessels, armoured vehicles, HMARS, Harpoon coastal defence systems, anti tank Javelin missiles, medical supplies. The US had already started sending munitions to Ukraine long before Russia invaded their neighbours, starting in 2014 and rapidly increasing in 2021. 

In December 2021 Biden signed a $777 billion defence policy bill into law – an exorbitant amount given that the US had essentially exited one of their last conflicts months before as they exited Afghanistan. Large chunks of this budget were already earmarked for procurement of military equipment as well as research and development of new military crafts. According to the Washington Post, the US contributions to Ukraine from February 2022 equates to nearly a third of Russia’s annual military budget. According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, the Ukraine crisis will see the FY23 military budget increase far beyond previous estimations. 

The US is not the only nation to drastically fatten their military budget; Germany, for instance, recently pledged a €100 billion increase in military funding. Other nations that increased their military spending quite significantly in 2021 include Iran, Watar, India, China, the UK and Nigeria (with a massive 56% increase in 2021).

Poking the Russian Bear

The US and Nato had started poking the Russian bear ages before the recent conflict. As Ted Galen Carpenter for the CATO Institute notes: admitting their involvement in the Ukraine War doesn’t mean that you’re siding with Putin, it simply means you’re thinking critically. No one thinking critically could condone the invasion and brutalities committed by Russia – these are inexcusable, but it’s also rather obvious. 

The Russia-US spat started decades ago though – and George Kennan had already warned in 1998 that Nato’s eastward expansion would set in motion a new cold war. 

Nato had, of course, assured Russia over several decades that it had no intention of expanding eastward. While this promise was made clear through several publications and press statements by both factions, there is still a looming myth which states that this promise had already been made to Mikhail Gorbachev before the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. While Gorbachev debunked these claims personally at the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall in 2014, he also stated that the expansion was “a violation of the statements and assurances made” in 1990. A statement as vague as modern political expressions.

Relations between Russia and Nato had been quite amicable, especially during the Yeltsin-Clinton years. Russia even assisted Baltic states to acquire UN membership in 1998. But such friendly relations frayed rather swiftly over the years, especially under the Bush administration. While Russia has been criticised persistently by the USA for their occupation of Crimea and Donbass, oddly enough the Nato-Russia Council – an extension of the Nato-Russia Founding Act signed in 1997 aimed at cooperation between Russia and Nato – has met several times per year since its establishment – the last meeting taking place on 12 January 2022. 

While Nato and Russia have made a point of expressing their mutual love in public, both parties have been weary of each other. Nato’s claim that their eastward expansion is not military in nature seems rather foolish given that the US had been training Ukrainian forces for nearly three decades, something which ballooned from 2014 onward. 

With the war in full force, the USA and other Nato states have used both military and economic tactics to conquer the Russian invasion. 

And while sanctioning Russia and their pals, China, has pushed the world to source goods previously purchased from them elsewhere and temporarily boosting certain economies, the downside is that such significant supply chain overhauls also increase the cost of goods. There are simply too many punctures in the global economy’s boat to fix at once, and keeping the vessel afloat is simply unviable. 

The world is lifting the veil on the US and awakening to the fact that other nations aren’t facing a GOP or NDP spat between republicans and democrats – the world is up against a totalitarian state which sees itself as the only authority in choosing right or wrong and penalising such perceived actions on the globe.

Tit for tat: the sanction spat

Sanctioning Russian oil exports is one of the moves which has backfired most. For instance – while the USA is the highest producer of oil in the world and produces enough oil to meet their own needs, the lifting cost (cost of excavation) is higher in the US than many other places – which means US oil is often more expensive than other sources. The quality of US crude oil is also too ‘light’ and ‘sweet’. While light and sweet crude oil is easier to handle, US refineries are predominantly set up for handling less sweet and heavier crude oil since their energy supplies were historically met through oil imports. 

Additionally, while Saudi Arabia sits on masses of crude oil, they indicated early on that they would not step up to fill the gap left by Russian oil sanctions. Given that the third and fourth spots on the global oil production tier are Russia and China, the world is facing massive headaches due to short supply and high prices. 

For Europe, the need for oil had diminished some over years due to alternative energy sources (whether for electricity or as fuel sources), such as natural gas, hydroelectricity, solar, wind and nuclear power. Russia is well aware of the world’s reliance on its energy resources, and is squeezing back with vigour. While many nations have imposed sanctions on Russia alongside the USA, they have been weary to cut off their energy supplies. Not that this is in their hands anymore as Russia’s response to the world’s sanctions was to cut their supplies to the EU. 

Additionally, Putin has demanded that ‘unfriendly nations’ pay for their energy supplies in Rubles – boosting the value of the Russian currency. 

Damon Linker, contributing editor for the New Republic and Senior Writing Fellow for the Center for Critical Writing at the University of Pennsylvania ironically decried the fact that journalists reported publicly on the US’s sharing of intelligence and meddling in Ukraine-Russia affairs. His article in The Week lamented the disclosure of information which should have been secret as a prompt for international critique and conflict more than the actual actions being critiqued. 

Back to the dark ages

In 2021, Russia supplied 40% of the EU’s natural gas and 4% to the UK. They also exported 2.4 million bpd of crude oil to Europe. In fact 14% of the world’s crude and condensate came from Russia last year. With the world’s longest pipeline system, the Druzhba system, Russia is also far more capable of transporting supplies to Europe and Asia than other nations. 

While Russia is only the world’s second largest gas producer (behind the USA), its location is far more suited to supplying such gas to Europe, Asia and the Middle East than the US. 

EU member states have committed to cutting their reliance on natural gas usage by 15% over seven months (from July 2022) and seek alternatives to Russian oil supplies, but some European nations aren’t that keen. Hungary, which imports 65% of all its oil from Russia has been quite vocal about the need to reduce sanctions. Leaders of France, Germany and Italy have all expressed their hope for a ceasefire despite the US stating succinctly that it will persist in fighting alongside Ukraine until Ukraine has achieved a democratic, sovereign and independent state and Russia has been dealt an overwhelming and conclusive strategic failure. 

Former Italian ambassador to Nato, Stefano Stefanini stated in an interview with the Financial Times that Europeans are increasingly befuddled by the US’s antics and unsure what their game plan is. US officials have noted on several occasions that Russia will be left weaker once the war is over no matter how the war unfolds which, for many, tells the actual strategic tale – the aim is not necessarily a Ukrainian victory, but a Russian defeat. As senior political scientist Samuel Charap for the Rand Corporation notes, Russia will be isolated, impoverished and surrounded by Nato once the dust has settled. 

It seems Europe and the UK are leaning more towards negotiations than warfare, as expressed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. 

For Europe the crisis is adding onto existing humanitarian crises and emerging economic recessions. 

Breaking records…and the camel’s back

As if the dominoes aren’t falling fast enough, nature is giving the world a stark reminder of our obligations. The current crises have placed nations atop a precarious ‘tetrahedron’ with the three sides of the pyramid equally important to the integrity of the entire structure. The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) calls the three sides of the ‘trilemma’ accordingly: security, affordability and sustainability. 

The war and subsequent energy crisis is making it quite impossible for nations to stick to their sustainability and emission targets, and yet the crisis will simply grow if these targets are not met. 

The US, mainland Europe and UK saw record-breaking temperatures this summer, with the UK recording its highest ever temperature – 40°C – on 19 July 2022. These rising temperatures have several alarming knock-on effects. 

For Europe the high temperatures have seen natural water resources dry up. While Europe has looked to Norway to make up for electricity shortages through their hydroelectricity supplies, the country is considering cutting supplies for the first time due to dried up reservoirs. The country was compelled to refill their reservoirs earlier this month due to below-average seasonal water levels – a similar dilemma faced by Lesotho in the South African energy crisis. Norway’s water levels are at their lowest since 1996 – measuring at a mere 49.3% capacity. The push to cut supply to EU nations is primarily driven by Norwegian citizens who argue that rising costs can be cut if the nation focuses on internal supply – especially since the nation is not an EU member. 

France – a nation which relies on nuclear power for 70% of its energy production and is the largest net exporter of electricity in the world – is facing similar problems as the global supply shortages have seen nuclear reactors fall into disrepair with more than half of the country’s nuclear reactors shut down for maintenance. Another alarming effect is the rising river temperatures which have a direct impact on France’s capacity for nuclear power generation. 

The drought and high temperatures affect nuclear power production in three ways:

 – Water is passed over the cores of nuclear plants which absorb thermal energy to create steam and spin turbines which generate electricity. Water shortages limit the amount of water available to nuclear plants. 
 – Water is used to cool steam circuits in condensers – cool water is taken from natural water sources and warm water is released back into these systems. Power plants are restricted from dumping too much warm water into natural systems as this threatens organisms and wildlife. 
 – Water used in plants becomes less effective the higher the water temperature. Electrical output decreases with 0.37% to 0.72% for every 1°C increase in outdoor temperature. 

France has already been compelled to restrict production at their Tricastin, Blayais, Saint Alban and Bugey plants in July 2022. Alarmingly though, the country has made a ‘concession’ on certain restrictions which allows nuclear plants to exceed their allowable limit of warm water released back into natural water systems. 

Water levels for the Garonne river which supplies water to the Golfech nuclear plant are plummeting by 50 cubic metres per second as the plant only discharges 6 cubic metres of water for the 8 cubic metres it requires to cool the system. Keeping the plant active has contributed to the 6°C rise in the river’s temperature in recent months. France’s answer to the crisis is a plan to construct additional nuclear power plants – a ‘solution’ which has many academics scratching their heads since additional plants don’t equate to additional water required to keep plants running, according to Climate Economy Director at Paris University Dauphine, Anna Creti. Creti further notes that the novel ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs), which the nation wants to implement are all in their pilot phase and deploying these could take up to 10 years. 

France’s plans to use pressurised water reactors (EPRs) is also unfeasible as the cost of construction for one such system has tripled to €13 billion since they were initially approved and current estimates place the final cost at €19 billion per plant with an additional 10 years for construction over initial estimates – according to France’s Court of Auditors.

In Germany the drought has led to supply shortages as barges which normally transport coal to power plants along the Rhine River are struggling to pass through and traffic has increased as a result. 

EU nations and the UK are now considering firing up defunct or close-to-retired coal plants in order to keep the lights on. Surging prices will see many impoverished households go without heating or lighting this winter which will increase the need for socio-economic interventions. 

The rising temperatures have a further disastrous effect – as water temperatures rise they become breeding grounds for bacteria which – if left untreated – could see to the spread of numerous bacterial diseases, or require far more interventions and treatment to make the water suitable for consumption. 

African solution or African problem?

The world is increasingly looking to Africa for solutions to their energy and supply shortages – the continent is perfectly located to feed the globe’s demands and hungry for trade, but there is an inherent hypocrisy to this solution. 

As noted by Foreign Policy – Western governments have persistently prohibited funding by the World Bank and other factions to African nations who need funding for fossil fuel and other energy production initiatives. Many of these funding restrictions have nothing to do with the nature of the energy generation and are imposed due to political policies – when the West disapproves of a nation’s ideologies or policies it simply cuts off the ‘financial pipeline’.  These nations have persistently cited ‘climate change’ as rationale behind restricted funding, and yet African countries account for merely 3% of all global carbon emissions. 

The average European uses six times the amount of electricity as any African consumer. Various African heads of state and academics have decried the Western throttling of Africa when they are the highest consumers of non-renewable energy sources and the highest contributors to climate change. 

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) and European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) have persistently imposed untenable regulations on emerging nations in exchange for trade agreements and yet these nations are now disregarding their own regulations while also looking to Africa to help them out. 

Algeria and Nigeria have been supplying the EU with 8% and 2% of their gas imports to date, and new negotiations are underway. Since March 2022, Italy has signed agreements with Angola, the DRC, Algeria and Egypt with additional negotiations underway in other regions. Another EU gas initiative, the Tortue development between Senegal and Mauritania is already set to supply Europe with gas in 2023. 

With the discovery of two giant deepwater gas fields off the coast of Mozambique in recent years, the world is likely to look towards Africa for their supplies. 

But western nations may need to compete for Africa’s bounties in ways they’ve not done before, and Africa may be wooed by novel grovelling which it had not experienced before. Andrew Freeman, senior analyst for North Africa and the Middle East consulting firm Control Risk notes that China is offering far more competitive rates than other nations. Additionally, while China is not in any way beholden to the Paris Convention on Climate Change, it has systematically and dramatically increased its pledge to curbing carbon emissions and accounts for half of the entire world’s emission cuts since 2005 – according to the World Bank. The nation had cut its ‘carbon intensity’ by nearly 50% from 2005 to 2020. Additionally, the nation achieved this in parallel with a decrease in poverty of almost 100 million people living in the country. 

While the nation’s emissions are still sky-high, they are on track to achieve the fastest jump from carbon peaking to carbon neutrality of all nations in the world. 

Leader of PowerShift Africa, Mohamed Adow, has been quite vocal against western hypocrisy. Africa has been warming faster than the rest of the world on average, despite being the lowest contributor to climate change, and yet the US has reneged on their 2021 promise to cut emissions. They aren’t merely the world’s largest cumulative emitter of greenhouse gases per capita, and yet the nation reneged on more than two thirds of their international climate funding pledges – choosing instead to divert funding to Ukraine war efforts. 

According to the world bank, 5.8 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean will be plunged into extreme poverty due to climate change by 2030, and these people will need to migrate in order to survive. Given many nations’ policies on migration and border security, the likelihood is that most of these people will die due to the negligence and callousness of western nations who place themselves on insulated pedestals. Ph.D candidate at Columbia University, R. Daniel Bressler, states that their findings indicate that around 74 million lives could be saved in the next century if carbon emissions are cut to zero by 2050. 

South Africa – focusing on focus

South Africa is facing many challenges of our own and the maelstrom of global crises aren’t making things easier. 

We are reliant on international trade, stuck between appeals from the west and our BRICS partners, facing revolt within our ruling faction the likes of which has never been seen and trying to address the effects of socio-economic upheaval while crawling around in an Eskom-imposed darkness.

South African industries are already facing massive drawbacks due to inflation, fuel prices, shortages and even novel export restrictions imposed by European nations for ‘environmental reasons’ – another hypocrisy which we have to either accept or reject to our own detriment.  

South Africa needs to focus on focusing before we can focus our efforts further afield. 

Where to go from here?

If you’ve your sights set on emigration the current crisis may make it a bit difficult to decide where to go. Rand Rescue cannot make any decisions for you but can advise on the financial aspects of your emigration and facilitate a smooth transfer of your financial assets to your new home. 

We’ll cover some suitable relocation destinations in the coming weeks. For the time being, feel free to leave your details below and we’ll get back to you to discuss your options. 


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