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WEATHER

Europe swelters under record-breaking heatwave

Forest fires are raging, animals are suffering and humans are sweating as Europe grapples with one of the most intense heatwaves ever recorded.

Beachgoers shelter under the shade of an umbrella in southern France.
Beachgoers shelter under the shade of an umbrella in southern France. (Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP)

France and other western European nations on Saturday sweltered under a blistering June heatwave that has sparked forest fires and concerns that such early summer blasts of hot weather will now become the norm.

The weather on Saturday was the peak of a June heatwave that is in line with scientists’ predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.

The French southwestern town of Biarritz, one of the country’s most sought-after seaside resorts, saw its highest all time temperature Saturday of 41 degrees, state forecaster Meteo France said.

Queues of hundreds of people and traffic jams formed outside aquatic leisure parks in France, with people seeing water as the only refuge from the devastating heat.

With the River Seine off limits to bathing, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city’s fountains.   

Temperatures in France could reach as high as 42C in some areas on Saturday, Meteo France said, adding that June records had already been beaten in 11 areas on Friday.

“This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France” since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France.

With “many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in several regions,” he called the weather a “marker of climate change”.

Forest fires rage

In a major incident in France, a fire triggered by the firing of an artillery shell in military training in the Var region of southern France was burning some 200 hectares (495 acres) of vegetation, local authorities said.

“There is no threat to anyone except 2,500 sheep who are being evacuated and taken to safety,” said local fire brigade chief Olivier Pecot.

The fire came from the Canjeurs military camp, the biggest such training site in Western Europe. Fire services’ work was impeded by the presence of non-exploded munitions in the deserted area but four Canadair plans have been deployed to water bomb the fires.

Farmers in the country are having to adapt.

Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from “daybreak until 11.30am” and in the evening, as temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a sizzling 55 degrees C.

Forest fires in Spain on Saturday had burned nearly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land in the north-west Sierra de la Culebra region.

The flames forced several hundred people from their homes, and 14 villages were evacuated.

Some residents were able to return on Saturday morning, but regional authorities warned the fire “remains active”.

Firefighters were still battling blazes in several other regions, including woodlands in Catalonia.

Temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) were forecast in parts of the country on Saturday — with highs of 43 degrees C expected in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza.

There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures topped 40C on Saturday. A blaze in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over about 60 hectares by Friday evening.

Foretaste of future

Dutch authorities said they expect Saturday to be the hottest day of the year so far.

The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday, with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.

“I think at the moment people are just enjoying it being hot but if it gets any hotter than this, which I think it is meant to, then that’s a concern,” said Claire Moran, an editor in London.

Several towns in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens harvests.

Italy’s dairy cows were putting out 10 percent less milk, the main agricultural association, Coldiretti, said Saturday.

With temperatures far above the cows’ “ideal climate” of 22-24C, animals were drinking up to 140 litres of water per day, double their normal intake, and producing less due to stress, it said.

Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels, she added.

Member comments

  1. Climate change is impacting Europe now but both Africa and Asia experience worse conditions.

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ENERGY

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

The more the sun shines in the southern German town of Aurach, the more likely it is that Jens Husemann's solar panels will be disconnected from the grid -- an exasperating paradox at a time when Germany is navigating an energy supply crisis.

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

“It’s being switched off every day,” Husemann told AFP during a recent sunny spell, saying there had been more than 120 days of forced shutdowns so far this year.

Husemann, who runs an energy conversion business near Munich, also owns a sprawling solar power system on the flat roof of a transport company in Aurach, Bavaria.

The energy generated flows into power lines run by grid operator N-Ergie, which then distributes it on the network.

But in sunny weather, the power lines are becoming overloaded — leading the grid operator to cut off supply from the solar panels.

“It’s a betrayal of the population,” said Husemann, pointing to soaring electricity prices and a continued push to install more solar panels across Germany.

Europe’s biggest economy is eyeing an ambitious switch to renewables making up 80 percent of its electricity from 2030 in a bid to go carbon neutral.

N-ergie thermal power station

The thermal power station of energy supplier N-Ergie in Nuremberg, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spanner in the works.

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the European powerhouse’s resolve in backing Ukraine.

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take for Germany to turn off Russian gas?

As a result, Berlin has been scrambling for alternative sources across the world to replace the shortfall.

This makes it all the more frustrating for Husemann, whose solar panels normally generate enough electricity for 50 households. With the repeated shutdowns, he suspects they will only supply half of their capacity by the end
of the year.

Grid bottlenecks

Grid operator N-Ergie, which is responsible for harvesting electricity from Husemann’s panels, admits the situation is less than ideal.

There were 257 days last year when it had to cut off supply from solar panels on parts of the grid.

“We are currently witnessing — and this is a good thing — an unprecedented boom in photovoltaic parks,” Rainer Kleedoerfer, head of N-Ergie’s development department, told AFP.

An employee of energy supplier N-ERGIE working at the company's network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. 

An employee of energy supplier N-Ergie working at the company’s network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But while it takes just a couple of years to commission a solar power plant, updating the necessary infrastructure takes between five and 10 years, he said.

“The number of interventions and the amount of curtailed energy have increased continuously in recent years” as a result, according to N-Ergie spokesman Michael Enderlein.

“The likelihood is that grid bottlenecks will actually increase in the coming years,” while resolving them will take several more years, Enderlein said.

According to Carsten Koenig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, the problem is not unique to solar power and also affects wind energy.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Solar bottlenecks tend to be regional and temporary, he said. “Occasionally, however, we hear that especially in rural areas in Bavaria, the shutdowns are more frequent.”

2.4 million households

Koenig agrees the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“This will be especially true if political measures aimed at sufficiently expanding the power grid in Germany… drag on for too long,” he said.

Some 6.1 terawatt hours of electricity from renewables had to be curtailed in 2020, according to the most recent figures available.

With an average consumption of around 2,500 kilowatt hours per year in a two-person household, this would have been enough to power around 2.4 million households.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Network Agency said it did not share the belief that “it will not be possible to expand the network in line with demand in the coming years”.

Only some aspects of the expansion are seeing delays, the spokesman said — mainly due to slow approval procedures and a lack of specialist companies to do the work.

According to Husemann there have also been delays to the payments he is supposed to receive in return for the solar power he supplies — or cannot supply.

He said he is already owed around 35,000 euros ($35,600) for electricity produced so far this year that has never found its way into a socket.

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