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ENERGY

Speed limits and ‘home office’: How Germany could reduce its oil consumption

As Germany struggles with its dependence on Russian oil, environmental groups and climate-conscious politicians have proposed ways of reducing this while also protecting the climate.

Speed limits and 'home office': How Germany could reduce its oil consumption
A thermostat attached to a radiator displays the temperature. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Franziska Gabbert

Germany’s dependence on Russian energy supplies means it’s unlikely that the German government will be able to place a ban on oil imports like the one announced by the USA on Tuesday.

Both the Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) have also recently warned of grave consequences for Germany if such imports were to stop.

Russian oil imports are mainly processed in refineries into fuel and diesel, but are also used for heating and many German companies also use oil as a raw material and manufacturing lubricant.

READ ALSO: Russian energy imports ‘essential’ to Europeans’ lives, says German Chancellor

But another way around the issue could be to put in place measures that lead to reduction in oil consumption and for people to change their habits to conserve more energy. Here are some of the measures that have been proposed so far.

Driving speed limits

The controversial topic of introducing speed limits on the Autobahn is doing the rounds again, as both Greenpeace and the Environmental Action Germany have raised the issue again in the last week. They have claimed that a reduction in speed could save 3.7 billion litres of petrol and diesel, as well as 9.2 million tonnes of CO2.

They’re not only suggesting an introduction of a speed limit of 100 km/h on motorways, but also a reduction from 120 to 80 km/h on country roads and from 50 to 30 km/h inside towns for the duration of the current crisis.

Speed limit 100 is written on a traffic sign on a motorway on the border between the Netherlands and Germany. Phtoto: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

Turning down the heating

According to the International Energy Agency, heating German households by one degree less would have an enormous effect on the annual demand for energy.

The Director of German think-tank Agora Energiewende, has stated that, if people lower their heating by 1-2 degrees, they can reduce the energy consumption in their household by at least 10-15 percent and, if they turning the radiators down when out of the room could save six percent of household energy demand.

Taking simple measures like this, and wearing warmer clothes could add up to a big impact on Germany’s overall energy consumption.

READ ALSO: How people in Germany can support Ukraine

Driving more carefully

The ADAC automobile association also recently pointed out that driving behaviours can also help lower fuel consumption and has listed useful tips on their website.

“Drivers can easily save up to 20 percent fuel by driving with foresight and not aggressively, by avoiding unnecessary short trips, power consumption (heating, cooling), and by driving with energy-saving tyres and optimal tyre pressure.

This behaviour could certainly reduce the annual fuel consumption of 52 billion litres in Germany by several billion litres, they have said.

Car-free Sundays

An archive photo from 1973 shows the view of the empty Duisburg-Kaiserberg motorway junction during the second Sunday driving ban due to the oil crisis. Photo: picture-alliance / dpa | Horst_Ossinger

The energy policy spokesperson of the SPD parliamentary group, Nina Scheer, has brought up a concept which was first implemented in Germany during the oil crisis in 1973.

So-called car-free Sundays (Autofreie Sonntage) she said “have not harmed us in the past and could also make a contribution today if a corresponding shortage requires it”.

At the time, the government of Willy Brandt put in place four car-free Sundays, and Germans were banned from driving without a special allowance.

READ ALSO: Germany considers how to ease surging energy costs

Working from home

Another proposal put forward by Greenpeace is the continuation of the working from home model which has taken off during the pandemic, as many people in Germany travel to work by car.  

According to their forecast, if 40 percent of workers continued to work from home on two additional weekdays (compared to the pre-Covid level), this would save 1.6 million tonnes of fuel per year.

Would there be support in Germany for these kinds of measures?

The jury is still out on that. As Germany is such a car-loving country, speed limits or car-free Sundays would likely be difficult. 

But environmental group Greenpeace said in due to the war in Ukraine, people may ready to try these kinds of steps.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany could end its dependence on Russian energy

Asked if these kinds of measures are likely gain support from people in Germany, a spokesperson for Greenpeace told The Local: “Proposals such as a renunciation of leisure travel by car or more cycling on short distances, rely on the support of the population.

“In view of the broad solidarity with the people in Ukraine and the great rejection of Putin’s war of aggression, society is overwhelmingly ready for such steps.”

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UKRAINE

Germany and G7 to ‘develop a price cap’ on Russian oil

G7 leaders, including Germany, have agreed to work on a price cap for Russian oil as part of efforts to cut the Kremlin's revenues. Here's a look at what's been happening at the summit in Bavaria.

Germany and G7 to 'develop a price cap' on Russian oil

The Group of Seven leaders will “task ministers to work urgently towards developing, consulting with third countries and the private sector in an effort to develop a price cap around oil”, a senior US official told reporters.

The goal of the plan is to starve the Kremlin of its “main source of cash and force down the price of Russian oil”, the official said.

The official announcement is expected to come in the final communique later as a three-day G7 summit in the Bavarian Alps draws to a close.

The United States has led the push for an oil price cap at the gathering of the club of rich nations — which also includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The move is designed to place Vladimir Putin’s regime under increased economic pressure and to punish the hostile nation for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

“There is consensus emerging… that the price cap is a serious method to achieve that outcome,” President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, told reporters at Germany’s G7 summit on Monday. 

READ ALSO:

While the West has already imposed multiple layers of sanctions on Russia in response to Putin’s order to invade Ukraine in February, the targeting of the oil industry represents the highest economic stakes so far.

The idea is that consumer countries would effectively set a low price for Russian oil, while Moscow, needing the revenue, would have no choice but to accept.

There are major questions, however, about unity among consumer countries and whether Russia really would cave in or instead might retaliate by cutting energy supplies to Europe.

Energy exports are Russia’s biggest revenue earner, while Western countries are among those most heavily dependent on imported oil and gas.

According to Sullivan, the main obstacle to the idea is not so much willingness to go ahead but sorting out the immensely complex logistical and technical aspects.

“The single biggest factor here is that this is not something that can be pulled off the shelf,” Sullivan said.

“It is a new kind of concept to deal with a particularly novel challenge, which is how to effectively deal with a country that’s selling millions of barrels of oil a day and (to) try to deprive it of some of the revenues.”

Spillover fears

With soaring fuel prices at the heart of painfully high inflation in Germany and other G7 countries, leaders want to be sure that any oil price cap would also “minimise the spillovers and the impact on the G7 economies and the rest of the world.”

“The G7 leaders are going to acknowledge those two objectives and also acknowledge that the path forward is to urgently direct ministers to work on achieving a price cap which can, in our judgement, best achieve both of those objectives simultaneously,” the senior US official said.

The idea of price capping Russian oil — and also gas — has support from Italy and also France.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

Elmau Castle, Bavaria

The leaders of Group of Seven rich nations hold a meeting at Elmau Castle in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The French presidency has however said the measure would be “much more powerful if it came from the producing countries”, and that it was necessary to work with OPEC+ and other oil producers around the world.

The United States and Canada, which are far less reliant on Russia as an energy supplier, have banned all Russian oil imports. Europe is seeking to lessen its own reliance.

In another measure meant to punish Russia and increase assistance to pro-Western Ukraine, the G7 plans to turn funds raised in recently imposed trade tariffs on Russian exports into assistance for Ukraine.

G7 leaders “will seek authority to use revenues collected by any new tariffs on Russian goods to help Ukraine and to ensure that Russia pays for the cost of its war”, the senior US official told reporters.

Condemnation of civilian attacks 

A missile strike on a shopping mall in Ukraine’s Kremenchuk city, which occurred while leaders were meeting in Bavaria’s Schloss Elmau, also drew fierce criticism from the political leaders. 

Russia’s “brutal” missile strike on the crowded shopping mall in central Ukraine constitutes a war crime, the G7 leaders said, vowing that Putin and those responsible would be held to account.

“Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” the leaders said in a statement. “We solemnly condemn the abominable attack.” 

Ukraine accused Russia of deliberately targeting civilians, with President Volodymyr Zelensky calling it “one of the most brazen terrorist acts in European history” in his evening broadcast posted on Telegram.

“A peaceful town, an ordinary shopping centre — women, children ordinary civilians inside,” said Zelensky, who earlier shared a video of the mall engulfed in flames with dozens of rescuers and a fire truck outside.

Alongside measures like the cap on oil, the leaders of the seven wealthy nations also discussed weapons deliveries to the Ukraine, the ongoing food crisis caused by the war, and measures to tackle climate change. 

The industralised nations have pledged a total of $14 billion to help tackle food shortages and have called on countries to avoid stockpiling food in the wake of the crisis.

The war in Ukraine, a country known as Europe’s breadbasket, has pushed up food prices and led to shortages, as Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports prevents millions of tonnes of grain from being shipped out.

This has led to fears of famine in developing nations as well as soaring prices in economies like Germany. 

READ ALSO: Germany will see further food price hikes, says minister

‘Continued support’ 

Addressing the leaders by video link, Zelensky had urged them to “intensify sanctions” to help end the war before the bitter winter.

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the G7 said in a statement on the summit’s second day.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), who was hosting the summit, said on Monday that the Group of Seven would continue to turn up the heat on Putin in order to ensure a swift end to the war. 

“As G7 we stand united on Ukraine’s side and will continue our support. For this, we all have to take tough but necessary decisions,” Scholz tweeted, thanking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for addressing world leaders by video link.

“We will continue to increase pressure on Putin. This war has to come to an end.”

READ ALSO: Macron, Scholz and Draghi meet Ukrainian president in Kyiv

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