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26th Sep 2022

EU now mulling options to reduce electricity demand

  • Electricity prices in countries such as Spain hit a new record this August (Photo: European Commission)
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The EU is considering measures to cut electricity demand as part of its efforts to tackle skyrocketing energy prices, a senior European Commission official said on Thursday (1 September).

Until now, efforts have primarily focused on reducing gas consumption amid concerns that Russia could further curb gas flows to the region or cut off supplies completely.

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But the European Commission is now also examining an electricity demand-reduction plan to deal with soaring energy prices.

The commission is looking into all different forms of energy price caps, but "there might be also something on demand reduction for electricity," said Mechthild Woersdoerfer, deputy director of the commission's energy department, told MEPs on the energy committee.

The EU executive is also assessing the possibilities of intervening in the electricity market and taxing companies for their windfall profits from high gas prices, she also said.

Her comments came after commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced earlier this week that the EU executive is preparing a new "emergency measures" package, acknowledging that current prices reveal "the limitations" of the EU's energy market design.

The new proposal, however, will not be finalised in time for the next extraordinary meeting of energy ministers scheduled for next week, Woersdoerfer said.

"There is not much we can prepare for that [meeting] except some factual update," she told EU lawmakers.

Natural gas prices are already almost 12 times higher than at the beginning of 2021, while the price of electricity in countries such as Spain hit a new record this August.

Under the existing market rules, gas sets the overall electricity price, but several member states, including Spain, France and Greece, have called for decoupling electricity prices from the gas market.

The Czech Republic, which holds the EU council presidency, has voiced support for an EU-wide gas price cap — a proposal backed by Italy and Belgium.

Meanwhile, others have been calling for capping gas prices — an idea that has recently gained the support of initially opposed Austria and Germany.

Hungary buys more gas

EU leaders have pledged to reduce their dependency on Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

During the summer, member states agreed to voluntarily cut gas use by 15 percent until March — a target that could still become binding in an emergency. And national authorities will have to inform the commission of the progress made to meet this target in mid-October, and every two months afterwards.

However, Hungary signed this week a new deal with Gazprom to buy extra natural gas on top of its current supplies — which seems at odds with its gas-saving commitments and general pledges.

"We would be very interested to see how the Hungarian authorities present the data [on the gas-saving target] to us on that date [15 October]," a commission spokesperson told reporters on Thursday.

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