Germany faces natural gas ‘crisis’, raises alert level
“Even if we don’t feel it yet, we are in a gas crisis,” said Economy and Energy Minister Robert Habeck.
Russia last week cut natural gas to Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, just as European Union countries scramble to fill fuel storage used for generating electricity, electrical industry and heating homes in winter. Russian energy giant Gazprom has blamed a missing part sent to Canada for repair as it cut 60% of flows through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to Germany – the main gas pipeline in natural gas from Europe.
Other countries, including Austria and the Netherlands, have also issued first-stage warnings about supplies and urged people to conserve. Germany and Italy, two of Europe’s biggest buyers of Russian gas, have called Russia’s gas cuts politically motivated and warned they could further slow the economy.
“We are in an economic conflict with Russia,” Habeck said, accusing Moscow of trying to destroy European unity and the solidarity it has shown with Ukraine.
The cuts come on top of gas cuts in Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France and the Netherlands in recent weeks.
The German government said current gas demands were met and its storage facilities were filled to 58% capacity, more than at the same time last year. But the goal of reaching 90% by December will not be possible without additional measures, he said.
Germany would not react by cutting off neighboring countries, Habeck said. Instead, he was urging industry and residents to reduce their consumption as much as possible.
“Prices are already high and we have to be prepared for further increases,” Habeck said, warning that “this will affect industrial production and become a big burden for many growers.”
Despite this, German energy industry lobby group BDEW said it supported the government’s decision. Calculations show that companies have already reduced their demand by 8% in recent months. To encourage further savings, the government plans to hold auctions paying large industrial consumers to back out of their contracts.
The measures taken, including large loans to gas distributors and utility companies to deal with price spikes, were necessary to prevent a collapse in energy markets, Habeck said.
Triggering the highest alert level could force Germany to ration gas for industrial customers to spare homes, schools and hospitals and would spell a blow to the economy.
Habeck said people could do their part by adjusting their home heating system now and saving up to 15% in the cold months.
“It sometimes seems trivial, but you have to multiply that triviality by 41 million households,” he said.
Since declaring the first phase of its emergency plan in March, Germany and other countries have been trying to get additional gas from neighbors such as the Netherlands and Norway as well as liquefied natural gas from producers. outside Europe, including the United States, as the EU seeks to reduce its dependence on Russia by two-thirds by the end of the year.
Much to the chagrin of environmentalists, the German government announced on Sunday that it would increase the burning of dirtier coal and reduce the use of gas for power generation.
Available coal generation capacity that could be brought back online could supply 9% of the country’s electricity needs and save a quarter of the gas used by industry, according to Carlos Torres Diaz, senior vice president of Rystad Energy.
The Netherlands will also allow coal-fired power plants to operate at full capacity again to conserve gas that would otherwise be burned for electricity.
Habeck blamed part of the blame on the political decisions of former German governments to rely on Russia for energy supplies and the failure to find alternatives.
“How different things would be if we had really made massive strides in energy efficiency and expanding renewables over the past few years instead of just sitting still,” he said.
His ministry recently unveiled a package of measures to boost the deployment of solar and wind energy in Germany. However, the government has so far ruled out keeping its three remaining nuclear plants online beyond the end of this year.
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