Supply of coal and petroleum products to Europe may be threatened in the coming days as the water levels on the Rhine River are expected to sink below the level of navigability.

Rhine River is one of the major European rivers. It begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, and forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German borders, and a key waterway for barge transportation.

Bloomberg reported yesterday that due to heat waves and drought this summer in Europe, the levels on the river are low and have now become too shallow for many barges shipping petroleum products to pass.

The report say barges are not being fully loaded to keep them lighter on the water, which lifts shipping costs and delays shipments of coal and fuels, affecting power generation in Germany during the heat wave. 

The Bloomberg report on Friday, which cited German government data, stated that the water level at the Kaub waypoint in Germany is now set to drop below the 40 centimeters (15.75 inches) threshold of navigability. The water level is expected to drop further in the next few days.

The report said some of the goods transportation has to be rerouted through rail transport, which could create further difficulties for Europe to procure coal and fuels. It said that the low water levels on the Rhine have already affected coal supply and contributed to record-high year-ahead power prices in Germany. 

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is said to have started to run more coal-fired power plants to conserve gas, and could see reduced generation from two of its coal plants until the first week of September due to limited coal supply via the Rhine, utilities warned last week. 

This summer, the low water levels on the Rhine have already caused logistics issues with coal in Germany. Power plants in Germany are said to be finding it increasingly difficult to source coal amid an energy crisis that is spiraling out of control as falling water levels on the Rhine River add to supply challenges caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine. 

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