How does the electrical grid in Europe deal with heat?

While it may be a small consolation for people suffering from the sweltering heat in southern Europe, electric grids in countries in the region such as Italy and Spain have so far met the extra energy demand for air conditioning without any significant price hike.

In a sense, Europe is benefiting from the measures taken last year, when the rise in natural gas prices caused by restrictions on flows from Russia sent electricity prices to record levels. The European electrical grid has also been plagued by other problems, including mechanical problems that have idled a large number of French nuclear plants.

Analysts say this experience, along with electricity prices still much higher than what was considered normal, has helped reduce electricity demand despite the high temperatures.

Incentives that encourage the use of highly polluting coal and oil-burning plants for power generation, measures introduced last year to reduce natural gas consumption, also remain in place. “It’s a really harmful situation,” said Marco Alveira, CEO of TES, a company that plans to import hydrogen into Europe for use as a clean fuel.

Increasing amounts of on-grid solar power, especially in Spain, has also helped boost electricity supplies and moderate prices. Solar energy production peaks in the middle of the day when both the sun and the need for air conditioning are most intense. Relatively mild price hikes occurred in the afternoon in Italy as the sun faded and people went home and air conditioning turned on.

At the same time, there have been fewer problems with nuclear power plants in France and other forms of conventional power generation in Europe than there were last year, resulting in more energy savings.

“The French nuclear situation has improved significantly compared to last year,” said Luca Urbanucci, EU energy market analyst at ICIS, a data analysis firm.

The European electricity grid also has interconnected cables that allow countries with less heat stress, such as Britain, Norway or Switzerland, to supply power to their neighbors.

In particular, Spain is benefiting from investments in solar panels, pumping out about 20 percent more solar energy than it did in the summer of 2022.

“This is why we are not seeing a sharp rise in prices as we would have otherwise expected,” said Stefan Konstantinov, chief energy economist at ICIS.

Despite the sweltering heat, Spain consumes much less natural gas than it did last year.

Of course, if the extreme heat continues as expected, power systems could be under even more stress. For example, nuclear power plants may have to shut down because water levels in rivers used for cooling become too low or the water itself becomes too warm.