The European Commission identified 20 good practices to address risks in the energy sector that are associated with a pandemic, such as COVID-19.
As the coronavirus started to spread globally, it didn’t only affect public health, but it also disrupted the economy, hitting very hard the energy industry. The International Energy Agency noted how the huge disruption caused by this crisis has actually highlighted modern societies need of electricity. Electricity that, although new forms of short-term flexibility such as battery storage are on the rise, relies on natural gas power plants, underlining the critical role of gas in clean energy transitions.
Early in April, following a videoconference between the EU ministers responsible for energy policy and the EU Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, it was stated that the EU internal energy market was functioning very well and was resilient to the challenges. In particular, the energy industry implemented exceptional business arrangements to ensure the continuity of critical operations, whilst protecting the health of their workers. Nuclear power plant regulators and operators ensured that there was no adverse impact on nuclear safety and supported continued Euratom Safeguard verifications by the European Commission, as far as safely possible.
The coronavirus pandemic also modified domestic and industrial energy consumption patterns, reducing demand dramatically, notably for the transport sector. However, on a positive note, the steep reduction in electricity demand has led to a higher share of renewables in the electricity mix.
The European Commission underlined also how the physical closure of borders represented another challenge, raising concerns over the availability of specialised energy workers and Euratom inspectors, as well as critical and standard components and raw materials. Also, cyber-attacks and hybrid threats may attempt to take advantage of the crisis by exploiting fear surrounding the pandemic.
And if we think about the medium and long term, the uncertainty of a long-lasting pandemic with associated restrictions of movement could lead to additional energy security concerns, particularly challenging during summer or winter seasons with the high level of demand.
Among the good practices, the Commission remained that the Electricity and Gas Directives require Member States to take the necessary measures to protect vulnerable customers in the context of the internal energy market. These include monitoring the situation of low-income households, enacted or extended moratoriums on disconnections for households and small businesses in arrears, as well as credit extensions or deferral of bill payments.
The pandemic also highlighted how important it can be to leverage the security of supply tools in a spirit of solidarity between Member States: this entails not only solidarity in case of an energy emergency but also cooperation and mutual assistance to prevent crises as it is already envisaged in the regulatory framework.