How Europe’s Energy Sector is Responding to the Coronavirus

Europe’s electricity giants are grappling with the steep
challenge of safeguarding staff, keeping the lights on, and
contributing to the relief effort — all while rolling ahead with
their own energy transition plans.

As Europe’s utilities, project developers and network operators
take stock, early speculation and guesswork on the impact of the
coronavirus outbreak is giving way to more informed forecasts and
detailed assessments. Some companies, including Ørsted and Total,
have established dedicated taskforces to deal with the
ever-changing circumstances.

The energy sector “won’t be as hard-hit as other industries,”
but it cannot expect to escape the crisis unscathed, said E.ON CEO
Johannes Teyssen, as the company announced its full-year
results.

“We still expect the crisis to leave its mark on our bottom
line,” Teyssen said. “Industrial and commercial customers are
consuming noticeably less energy. This will have a temporary impact
on our network and sales businesses. There may be delays in our
ability to deliver energy infrastructure projects.”

Energy utilities have a special responsibility during the crisis
as operators of critical infrastructure, Teyssen said. “We’re
Europe’s biggest operator of energy networks. Their reliability
and continuous availability is of paramount importance for health
care, public order, and people everywhere.”

EDF to lower nuclear forecast

While the impact on project construction appears to be limited
so far in Europe, social distancing and travel restrictions are
causing greater concern for operations.

French utility giant EDF said it will downgrade its own
financial forecast for nuclear power generation in its home
market, without yet putting a figure on it. With staffing levels
and operations limited by the country’s stringent restrictions on
movement, EDF said it will be forced to revise its intended
schedule of maintenance and planned outages.

In the U.K., EDF’s controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear
project — an already-delayed, 4-gigawatt development — has
halved construction staffing. In a statement released Tuesday, EDF
said more than half the workers on-site would be sent home leaving
2,000 to complete work already under progress. Those remaining will
operate within the confines of safe social distancing. Split
shifts, staggered breaks and extra transport buses around the site
will be used.

The plant was supposed to be completed in 2023, but after
further delays, EDF last year warned that the risk of the
completion date slipping as far out as 2026 had grown.

Ørsted unhindered…for now

In contrast, Denmark’s Ørsted maintained its financial outlook
for 2020 in the face of the coronavirus, saying that project
construction continues and the availability of its existing wind
farms has not been dented by travel restrictions.

But that could change, with Ørsted warning that plant
availability could be impacted if it cannot keep
“internationally staffed service operation vessels fully
manned.” 

One risk that could materialize is the delay of
government-backed tendering schemes and workforce shortages at the
public bodies that administer them.

“We remain dependent on public authorities to progress the
permitting and consenting of awarded projects and development
sites, and to progress the development of regulatory frameworks,
including tenders and auctions,” Ørsted said in a statement issued
on Wednesday. “Such processes could be exposed to risk of delays
due to travel restrictions, people working from home, and
government stakeholders being occupied by crisis management.”

Ørsted claimed to be shielded from short- to medium-term price
volatility as a result of its hedging strategy. But lower power
prices could begin to bite as the pandemic continues and the number
of days with negative pricing rise.

Energy firms bolster coronavirus response

European utilities and network operators have taken a number of
actions to protect their own staff, shield vulnerable consumers and
even make direct contributions to the public health response.

Iberdrola is working with hospitals in hard-hit Spain to
reinforce their power supply. It is also installing backup
generators to help power field hospitals and other temporary
facilities.

A spokesperson from Aggreko, a global provider of temporary
power, heating and cooling said, they are already working with a
number of clients to help with the response to the outbreak.

In Spain and the U.K., exhibition centers that would ordinarily
be hosting trade shows and live events are being converted into
field hospitals. The ExCel in London is being converted into

NHS Nightingale
, which will include 500 beds with oxygen and
ventilators. In Madrid, the home of last year’s UN climate change
negotiations is already in use as a temporary hospital.

As the virus first proliferated in Europe, networks were quick
to limit themselves to essential works only. Smart meter
installations have been put on pause. The Dutch network operator
Liander has asked the public to stay away from any of its engineers
conducting work in the field.

In the U.K., National Grid has established extra back-up
measures for its control room as well as heightened hygiene and a
ban on visitors.

And in a sign of the changing times, oil companies including BP
and Total have offered free fuel and EV charging to emergency
services during the crisis.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
How Europe’s Energy Sector is Responding to the Coronavirus