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How ordinary people in Germany can start preparing for a gas embargo 

Following renewed calls for a complete ban on Russian gas imports to Germany, cold showers and a ban on saunas could help conserve supplies in case of future shortages.

Water running from a shower head.
Water running from a shower head. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

As Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine reveals new horrors by the day, pressure is mounting on Germany to introduce a gas embargo – a complete ban – on Russian gas imports.

If this were to happen, the federal government could declare a state of emergency and take measures to limit the consumption of private citizens to prevent gas storage facilities from being empty by the end of the summer. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take before Germany turns off Russian gas?

However, there are measures that people can already start taking to help conserve the country’s gas supplies. 

Speaking to die Zeit on Tuesday, head of the Federal Network Agency – the German regulatory office for electricity, gas, and telecommunications – Klaus Müller called for people in Germany to make an “early start” with saving gas. “Anything that saves a cubic meter of gas today is good,” he said.

READ ALSO: German gas embargo could help end Ukraine war, says expert

Smarter heating

One simple step that ordinary consumers can already take is to reduce the heating in their homes to only the necessary rooms. 

According to Müller, keeping the thermostat below 19 degrees would be a big help, but consumers should also look into whether their homes are being properly heated. 

This can be done by having the heating system checked to see if it is set optimally and to ensure that the property is sufficiently insulated.

No saunas and fewer hot showers

Asked if saunas and large single apartments could be kept heated constantly in the future, the head of the Federal Network Agency said, “No, I don’t think that would be justifiable at all in a gas emergency.” 

Private consumption is still too high, he said, and that people should ask themselves whether they really need to take hot showers seven times a week with gas heating.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: How quickly can Germany wean itself off Russian gas?

What about German industry?

While the government could, in an emergency, take measures to limit private consumers’ gas consumption, decisions would also have to be taken on which kind of businesses are to be kept going. 

These would most likely be companies from the food and pharmaceutical sectors, Müller said.

According to European specifications, hospitals and gas-fired power plants responsible for district heating are afforded the most protection in the event of gas rationing. 

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Russia using energy ‘as weapon’, says Berlin

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck accused Russia on Thursday of using energy as "a weapon", after Moscow announced sanctions on Western energy firms and a key pipeline again saw lower gas deliveries to Europe.

Russia using energy 'as weapon', says Berlin

“It has to be said that the situation is coming to a head, in such a way that the use of energy as a weapon is now being realised in several areas,” Habeck told a press conference.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, on a visit to the German capital, said Moscow had shown itself to be an unreliable supplier.

Kuleba urged Europe to end its heavy dependence on Russian gas that was helping to finance Moscow’s war machine.

“This energy oxygen for Russia must be turned off and that is especially important for Europe,” Kuleba said at a joint press conference with Habeck.

“Europe must get rid of this complete dependence on Russian gas, since Russia has shown… that it is not a reliable partner and Europe cannot afford that.”

Russia on Thursday said it would stop sending natural gas via the Polish section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline as part of retaliation for Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

The move comes a day after Russia issued a government decree imposing sanctions on 31 EU, US and Singaporean energy firms.

Most of the companies belong to the Gazprom Germania group of subsidiaries of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The sanctions include a ban on transactions and the entry into Russian ports of vessels linked to the affected companies.

Meanwhile, operators on Thursday reported a drop in gas supplies from Russia via Ukraine for a second day, after Kyiv said it would suspend flows through a key eastern transit pipeline called Sokhranivka because the area wasno longer under Ukrainian control.

But Gazprom has denied there was a case for the Ukrainian side to declare “force majeure” and said it was impossible to reroute all the supplies through another Ukrainian pipeline.

‘Blackmail’ fears

Gazprom told the Interfax news agency that supplies transiting Ukraine on Thursday were at 50.6 million cubic metres in total, compared to 72 million cubic metres the day before.

Germany, which is hugely reliant on Russian energy, said it had been able to make up the shortfall through gas imports from Norway and the Netherlands.

The head of Germany’s Federal Network Agency, Klaus Mueller, also noted that Russia had been very “surgical” about its pick on which companies to sanction, selecting only storage and trading companies, and “not the operators”.

This “very well-planned, precise decree allows it to keep doing business with Germany, but not on old contract conditions”, rather under new conditions that other gas dealers would then have to conclude with Russia, said Mueller.

Europe’s biggest economy is racing to wean itself off Russian energy and has already almost completely phased out Russian coal.

But ditching Russian oil and gas will be more difficult.

With fears growing that Russia could abruptly turn off the energy taps, Habeck said Germany was focusing on building up gas reserves to prepare for winter.

“The gas storage facilities must be full by winter or else we will be in a situation where we can easily be blackmailed,” he warned.

READ ALSO: Russian gas transit halt in Ukraine hits key pipeline’s inflow in Germany