Allotments in Bristol. The Met Office has issued an amber warning for extreme heat covering four days from Thursday to Sunday for parts of England and Wales.

European heatwave could threaten UK electricity supplies

Image credit: PA Wire/PA Images Picture by: Ben Birchall

The generation of electricity from hydropower in Europe has dropped by 20 per cent as a result of the ongoing heatwave - putting further strains on energy supplies.

Record-breaking high temperatures across Europe and the UK might put electricity generation under pressure, and worsen the already dire predictions for the coming winter, experts have said. 

Ongoing heatwaves have taken their toll on energy production activities, from hydropower to nuclear reactors. While the first relies exclusively on water to generate electricity, nuclear facilities are also reliant on this resource, whose use has been restricted due to the drought. Moreover, the performance of other energy sources such as solar panels has also been affected by the high temperatures. 

Overall, experts have told the BBC that electricity from hydropower has dropped by 20 per cent.

"Once the water in the rivers is very low and very hot, basically you have to stop cooling down nuclear power plants. That's because the water that's released is dangerous for fish and other species in the rivers," said Prof Sonia Seneviratne, from ETH Zurich.

View of the UK from space after heatwave

View of the UK from space after heatwave / Nasa Worldview

Image credit: Nasa Worldview

The lack of water in rivers and reservoirs is affecting all of Europe, and reducing most countries' ability to export electricity to their neighbours, such as Britain.  

In Norway, water reservoirs have plunged to more than 25 per cent below what would be normal for this time of year, Morten Frisch, a Norwegian energy consultant based in the UK told i. Frisch revealed that remaining reserves may need to be “drastically curtailed” to address the situation.

The British electricity demand soars to 58 gigawatts during the winter. In normal circumstances, this demand is covered by the 1.4 gigawatt power cable between Norway and the UK which opened last year, and is able to cover the energy needs of up to 1.4 million British homes. 

Due to the drought, the Nordic country warned that it may not be able to continue to export energy to countries like the UK unless its reservoirs were refilled. 

Meanwhile, the generation of electricity in Italy has fallen by 40 per cent in Italy and 44 per cent in Spain in the last 12 months, according to data from energy researchers Rystad Energy. In addition, over 50 per cent of France's 56 nuclear reactors are offline due to the extreme heat and the inability to obtain enough water to cool them down.  

France is making up the shortfall in electricity by importing from the UK among others; but this is only a temporary solution. 

"We are going to face a problem this winter. And that should be a wake-up call to have more investment in the infrastructure for the next few years," said Eddie Rich from the International Hydropower Association. 

The stresses in the UK system were evident this week when the National Grid triggered a capacity market notice, a technical step indicating that the safe margins for operating the grid were reduced.

Over the past two months, UK temperatures have reached a historic 40°C, provoking transport disruptions and fires that have affected dozens of homes, schools and churches, with crews describing scenes as "absolute hell".

Last week, the government updated its plans for a “reasonable worst-case scenario,” which could see Britain exposed to four days in January when it may need to trigger emergency measures to conserve gas, including targeted electricity blackouts

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