Households should turn down the heating to help lessen the risk of gas shortages in the face of Russian supply cuts, the International Energy Agency has suggested.
The intergovernmental group warned Europe was still in danger despite high storage levels, and said demand cuts would help it cope with any late winter cold snaps such as the ‘Beast from the East’ storm in March 2018.
It comes as forecasters warn of an unusually cold, dry winter, heaping pressure on scarce gas supplies and potentially increasing the cost of government energy bailout packages.
“Europe’s security of gas supply is facing unprecedented risk as Russia intensifies its use of natural gas supplies as a political weapon,” the IEA warned. “Solidarity, unity and responsible household behaviour will be crucial to ensure supply security.”
Russia has cut its gas supplies to Europe by about 50pc this year compared to last as it retaliates over sanctions, putting huge strain on global markets, and triggering fears about blackouts this winter.
While the UK gets little gas directly from Russia, it is part of the European market and suffers the same effects of surging costs and huge competition for supplies.
Europe has managed to fill up its storage sites to almost 90pc to prepare for winter, at vast costs and helped by cutting demand.
But the IEA, whose members include the UK and the US, warned that running them down too quickly would leave countries vulnerable to cold snaps in March.
A complete halt to Russian supplies “cannot be ruled out”, it said, as Russia weaponises gas supplies as its war on Ukraine intensifies.
Meanwhile, competition for shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG) from around the world is likely to be fierce.
It argues that EU storage levels need to be kept at at least 33pc of capacity until the weather warms up, for “a safe and secure winter”.
Depending on the level of LNG imports that are available, that could require demand cuts of up to 13pc. Much of this will come from cutting gas use in commercial buildings and power stations.
However, the IEA also warns: “A 13pc demand reduction would also necessitate gas savings from households and require responsible electricity and gas consumption behaviour.
“Our analysis indicates that behaviour change could reduce gas demand by 15 billion cubic metres during the 2022/23 heating season, equating to over 40pc of the 13pc demand reduction.”
It estimates that turning the heating down by one degree centigrade could cut demand by about seven billion cubic metres.
It comes as the European Centre for Medium Weather-Range Forecasts warned of high pressure over western Europe in November and December, meaning cold, dry spells which would increase demand for heating and also reduce the output of wind turbines and hydro-power stations.
“If we have this pattern then for the energy it is quite demanding,” Florence Rabier, director-general of the centre, told the Financial Times.
This week, National Grid is set to publish its outlook for both gas and electricity supplies this winter. The Telegraph revealed that National Grid is racing to secure extra reserves of gas amid concern it will not be able to get enough from Europe.
Meanwhile, damage to the Nord Stream 1 pipelines built to bring gas from Russia to Europe, caused by suspected sabotage, have scuppered any hope that one could be brought back into action.
Keisuke Sadamori, director of energy markets and security at the IEA, said: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sharp reductions in natural gas supplies to Europe are causing significant harm to consumers, businesses and entire economies – not just in Europe but also in emerging and developing economies.
“The outlook for gas markets remains clouded, not least because of Russia’s reckless and unpredictable conduct, which has shattered its reputation as a reliable supplier. But all the signs point to markets remaining very tight well into 2023.”