Energy crisis causes Europe to hoard wood, clean chimneys, crush manure

Not far from Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, Peter Engelke is setting up a new security gate at his warehouse out of fear of desperate people stealing his goods. The precious asset at risk is firewood.

Engelke’s actions reflect growing anxiety across Europe as the continent prepares for energy shortages and possible power outages this winter. Clear sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline is the latest sign of the region’s importance as Russia cuts supply due to the standoff in the war in Ukraine.

At a summit in Prague on Friday, European Union leaders disagreed on a gas price ceiling amid concerns that any such move could threaten supplies area. About 70% of heating in Europe comes from natural gas and electricity, and with Russian deliveries plummeting, wood – already used by some 40 million people for heating – has become a commodity. hunt.

The price of wood pellets has almost doubled to 600 euros a tonne in France, and there are signs of panic buying the world’s most basic fuel. Hungary even went so far as to ban the export of pellets, and Romania limited price of firewood in six months. Meanwhile, wood stoves can now take months to deliver.

How bad is Europe’s energy crisis?

Aside from shortage concerns, the energy crisis is fueling a rise in the cost of living, with inflation in the eurozone. two digits for the first time in September. Confined households across the region are increasingly faced with the choice between heating and other essentials.

Nic Snell, managing director at the UK wholesale firewood retailer, said: “It goes back to the old days when people didn’t heat the whole house. “They would sit around the fire and use the heat from the stove or turn on the fire and go to sleep. There will be a lot more of that this winter. “

The trend means a boom in demand for Gabriel Kakelugnar AB, a maker of high-end tiled stoves that average 86,000 Swedish kronor ($7,700). The stove can keep a room warm for 24 hours because of its complex construction that uses different channels to trap and distribute heat.

“During the pandemic, people are starting to invest more in their homes. Jesper Svensson, owner and chief executive officer of the company, is located less than an hour’s drive from Sweden’s largest nuclear reactor.

Orders have quadrupled and customers now have to wait until March for delivery, compared with just four weeks a year ago.

For many Europeans, the main concern is doing whatever it takes to stay warm in the coming months. Worries become more pressing as winter cold approaches, and heat desperation can cause health and environmental problems.

“We worry that people will burn what they can burn,” said Roger Sedin, head of air quality at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. “We can see very high levels of pollution when you have people burning wood that don’t know how to do it right.”

Particulate matter can travel deep into the lungs and cause heart attacks, strokes and asthma, he said, adding that the risk is particularly acute in urban areas.

“You need to think about your neighbours,” says Sedin.

Inexperience is also evident in Germany, where the country’s chimney sweeper association is dealing with a series of requests to connect new and old stoves, and customers are asking about burning horse manure and other fuels. other confusing.

Desperate for wood

There are also signs of cuckolding. In France, Frederic Coirier, chief executive officer of Poujoulat SAThe chimney and wood fuel producer, said some customers have bought two tons of wood pellets, while typically less than one ton is enough to buy a house for a year.

“People are hungry for wood and they are buying more than usual,” said Trond Fjortoft, founder and CEO of Norwegian lumber company Kortreist Ved. “Usually that happens when it starts to get cold,” someone said, well we should order some wood. This year, starting from June ” – around the time Russia cuts gas supplies.

In Berlin, the crisis created disturbing echoes of the post-World War II devastation. With fuel supplies in short supply, residents cut down almost all the trees in Tiergarten central park to keep warm.

Although Berliners no longer go to such extremes, concerns about staying warm are still widespread. Not only did Engelke add a security gate to protect the logs, briquettes and hot oil, he also had to stop accepting new customers.

“We are looking ahead to winter with great interest,” he said.

– With support from Benoit Berthelot, Kari Lundgren and Will Mathis

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