The International Energy Agency (IEA) has told Russia to start pumping more gas to Europe as a winter energy crisis looms. It comes as the Kremlin’s has been accused of playing a part in the “perfect storm” of market forces that threatens home energy suppliers. Gazprom, Russia’s state-backed gas company, has met its contractual obligations for gas delivery over recent months, but there are calls for investigations into whether the company’s behaviour has been designed to put pressure on regulators to approve of its controversial plans to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline
Now, Chris Harvey, a central heating expert at radiator manufacture Stelrad, has warned that elderly Britons could feel the impact.
He said: “I think like many UK manufacturing companies we’re looking at the looming energy crisis with grave concern.
“If we were to face another cold winter, like the previous one that has already left our gas reserves critically low, we could see a return to the days where central heating in family homes is luxury for the rich, rather than the modern convenience many of us have come to expect.
“This will be a worrying time for many of our customers, who with consumer gas prices rising will, perhaps for the first time, think twice before they switch their radiators on this winter.
“This is something none of us wants to see, especially when it comes to the elderly or those with young children at home.”
Mr Harvey added that he was also concerned for his industry.
He said: “This is also extremely worrying for the UK steel industry who are naturally vulnerable to this level of market volatility, as a radiator manufacturer, we anticipate that at some point we will feel the knock-on impact of this.
“This serious situation is something to UK government really needs to get a move on now to come up with a solution to protect both British heavy industry and British consumers before the temperature drops.”
Russia is unlikely to respond though, as it is not part of the IEA.
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According to the Paris-based intergovernmental organisation, Russia is fulfilling its long-term contracts with European counterparts but its exports to Europe are down from their 2019 level.
It said in a statement on September 21: “The IEA believes that Russia could do more to increase gas availability to Europe and ensure storage is filled to adequate levels in preparation for the coming winter heating season.
“This is also an opportunity for Russia to underscore its credentials as a reliable supplier to the European market.”
European electricity prices have climbed to their highest levels in over a decade in recent weeks, rising above €100 per megawatt-hour in many markets.
In Germany and Spain, for example, prices in September have been around three or four times the averages seen in 2019 and 2020.
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The cost of protecting customers from failing energy providers could lead to higher bills in the UK, the boss of the energy regulator Ofgem has told the BBC.
One of the main reasons is an “uptick” in global gas demand as economies reopen after COVID lockdowns, according to the government.
It says this, combined with a cold winter in 2020-21 which prompted higher demand, has led to a “much tighter gas market with less spare capacity”.
Speaking on a visit to New York, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted there were “a lot of short-term problems” caused by gas supply shortages, but he added: “This is really a function of the world economy waking up after COVID.
“This will get better as the market starts to sort itself out, as the world economy gets back on its feet.”