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ENERGY

Germany faces up to problematic dependence on Russian gas

Rising tensions with Moscow over Ukraine have exposed Germany's problematic dependence on Russian gas, inflaming an already heated debate over soaring energy prices.

A letterbox with the label
A letterbox with the label "Gas for Europe" in an office building in Schwerin. The subsidiary for the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was founded recently - and the company Gas for Europe GmbH will own and operate the German part of the pipeline. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

As Germany pursues its target to transition to cleaner energy sources over the next decade, Europe’s biggest economy has counted on gas temporarily
filling the gap while it builds up its sun and wind energy capacity to replace nuclear and coal plants.

But with Russia now providing 55 percent of Germany’s gas imports – up from 40 percent in 2012 – Berlin’s best-laid plans may well go awry if Moscow were to march on Ukraine.

With gas making up 26.7 percent of Germany’s total energy consumption and heating one in every two households, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has admitted that if sanctions had to be imposed on Russia, they will also hit the German economy.

More precisely, the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was set to double supplies of cheap natural gas from Russia to Germany, now hangs in the balance.

READ ALSO: The German gas pipeline at centre of Russia dispute

In a warning hailed by the United States as “very, very strong”, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said the pipeline will be part of a sanctions package if Russia made a move on Ukraine.

Energy security

Long viewed as a problem by Western allies and Ukraine, the €10-billion ($12 billion) pipeline had been seen by former chancellor Angela Merkel’s government as a key stop-gap option while Germany shifts to renewables.

But critics have repeatedly warned that it would only serve to increase German dependence on Russian energy, and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has branded it a “dangerous geopolitical weapon of the Kremlin”.

Yet weaning Germany off Russian energy will be painful.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lawrow in Moscow on January 18th.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lawrow in Moscow on January 18th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Pool Reuters/AP | Maxim Shemetov

“If we give up Russian gas and Nord Stream 2, it won’t be lights out immediately, but it will be expensive, it will exacerbate unanswered gas supply questions for the future, and we’ll have a problem,” warned chairman of the mining, chemistry sector union IG BCE, Michael Vassiliadis.

With time pressing, the German government is launching a massive programme to build wind turbines covering two percent of the country’s land surface, and require the installation of solar panels on roofs.

“Phasing out the burning of fossil fuels also strengthens Europe in geopolitical terms and protects the climate,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said earlier this month.

But with the nuclear energy phase-out due to be complete by year’s end and coal power also to be halted by 2030, Germany will have to make up the
difference by raising its gas capacity by a third over the next eight years, according to the Fraunhofer economic institute.

Already, Germany’s gas consumption is on the rise. In 2021, it made use of 1.003 billion kWh, an increase of 3.9 percent on the previous year.

But the longer-term strategy does not solve the looming energy emergency at hand.

‘Alternative’

To reduce its dependency on Russia in the near future, the government is banking on diversifying its imports.

One “alternative” would be to exhaust the capacity of Europe’s liquified natural gas terminals, a source in the economy ministry said.

This solution, in which fresh imports could be delivered from the United States, Australia or Qatar, would, however, come at a price, the source indicated.

Higher costs could give a fresh push to inflation, which has hit multi-year highs in Germany and the eurozone in recent months.

The situation is not made any easier by Germany’s exceptionally low gas reserves, which currently sit below 42 percent of full capacity.

Nevertheless, the government sought to put a brave face on the issue.

Dismissing the risk of an acute shortage, Baerbock said on Friday that sufficient supply was “assured”.

SEE ALSO: Germany is in a muddle over Russia – and it only has itself to blame

By Florian CAZERES

Member comments

  1. So Germany has 2 options.
    Cave to Russia and hope prices dont go up.
    Or
    Loose the Russian gas imports see prices take off into a new stratosphere. The knock on effects will be beyond catastrophic. We will all be back on black bread by summer.

  2. Germany’s energy policies are responsible for the quagmire that it’s currently in. Abandoning nuclear power and phasing out coal only compounds the problem and forces the country to become more dependent on foreign energy sources. That impacts the economy as well as national security. Germany is at the mercy of Russia, and can do little about it.

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ENERGY

Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

Germany said Monday it was investigating an unexplained pressure drop in the inactive Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, which was blocked by Berlin in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

The operator said it was “relatively likely that there’s a leak” in the underwater pipeline, which runs beneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

Authorities had spotted a “large bubble field near Bornholm”, a Danish island in the Baltic, Nord Stream 2 spokesman Ulrich Lissek told AFP.

“The pipeline was never in use, just prepared for technical operation, and therefore filled with gas,” he said.

There was, however, “no clarity” over the cause of the pressure drop in the underwater link, or whether the issue was related to a section of the pipe in “German sovereign waters”, a spokeswoman for the German economy ministry said.

Officials were working to “clarify the situation,” the spokeswoman said, adding that Danish authorities had been alerted to the issue.

The pipeline, which runs parallel to Nord Stream 1 and was intended to roughly double the capacity for undersea gas imports from Russia, was blocked by Berlin in the days before the invasion of Ukraine. Germany, which was highly dependent on imports of fossil fuels from Russia to meet its energy needs, has since come under acute stress as Moscow has dwindled supplies.

Russian energy giant Gazprom progressively reduced the volumes of gas being delivered via the Nord Stream 1 until it shut the pipeline completely at the end of August, blaming Western sanctions for the delay of necessary repairs to the pipeline.

READ ALSO: Germany’s gas storage facilities ‘over 90 percent full’

Germany has rebuffed Gazprom’s technical explanation for the cut, instead accusing Moscow of wielding energy as a weapon amid tensions over the Ukraine war.

Kremlin representatives have previously suggested that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should be allowed to go into operation.

It was “technically possible” to continue deliveries, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in August.

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who signed off on the first Nord Stream pipeline in his final days in office, has also called on Berlin to reconsider its position on the blocked second link.

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