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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Europe Turned an Energy Crisis Into a Green Energy Sprint

An illustration of a window showing green gradients moving past with a radiator in the foreground.
Credit…Ibrahim Rayintakath

This was supposed to be a winter of energy crisis in Europe. Beginning last spring, not long after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fear of gas shortages spread across the continent, along with fears of what might follow. The coming winter crunch was compared to wartime, with energy experts less focused on whether it would bring rationing than how much. Others suggested that spectacular price spikes would mean suspensions of energy markets and that the continent as a whole would experience not a “cost of living crisis” but a crisis of “molecules” — in which there wasn’t enough energy to be had, no matter the price. A recession was simply taken for granted among the commentariat — almost like a badge of honor demonstrating the moral valor of standing up to Vladimir Putin.

Europe as a whole has indeed endured a lot through the cold months: dramatic spikes in energy prices, with wholesale prices for electricity and gas growing as much as 15-fold, often accompanied by similar spikes in government relief. Countries from Germany to Denmark and Italy spent more than 5 percent of G.D.P. to shield citizens from the crunch, enacting public conservation measures that darkened city streets and limited power use in other ways. In Britain, average bills were expected to grow by 80 percent before the government artificially lowered the average annual household energy bill to about $3,000. Across the continent, people turned their thermostats down and snuggled with hot water bottles at night. Industry was dialed back in places but also often found alternative power supplies.

All told, though, the worst has not come to pass. There were no blackouts, as experts were warning as recently as December…

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