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GERMANY AND RUSSIA

Germany sees ‘political’ motive behind Gazprom gas cut

Russian energy giant Gazprom's decision to cut supplies of natural gas to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline was "political", Germany's Economy Minister said Wednesday.

German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks at a conference in Brandenburg on June 13th.
German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks at a conference in Brandenburg on June 13th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

Gazprom announced Tuesday it would be cutting deliveries via the pipeline by around 40 percent due to the “repair” of compressor units by German company Siemens.

Gazprom’s move was “a political decision and not a technically justifiable decision”, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said at a press conference.

Habeck said Germany was aware of the need to service the pipeline but added that “the first set of maintenance works where this would have become relevant will not take place until autumn.”

At the same time, those works would not warrant a reduction “on the order of 40 percent”, Habeck said.

Gazprom said Tuesday that the delayed return of components meant only three gas-pumping units were currently operational at the Portovaya compression station near the Russian city Vyborg, where the pipeline begins.

Germany was monitoring the impact on the gas market but there was “no supply problem in Germany”, Habeck said.

Several European countries, including Germany, are highly reliant upon supplies of Russian gas for their energy needs.

Since the start of the war, European countries have sought to reduce their reliance on imports from Russia, but are divided about imposing an embargo on the fuel.

READ ALSO: Germany races to stockpile gas before winter

Moscow has already cut off several European clients after they failed to comply with a Russian demand that all “unfriendly” countries pay for natural gas in rubles in response to a barrage of Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Poland, Bulgaria, Finland and the Netherlands have had their deliveries suspended after refusing the arrangement.

The Nord Stream pipeline, commissioned in 2012, runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

A second underwater pipeline, Nord Stream 2, that was set to double deliveries was halted by Germany in the run up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: What are Germany’s alternatives to Russian gas?

With the country facing an energy crisis this winter after Russia cut natural gas deliveries, we look at what alternatives Germany has and how clean they are.

EXPLAINED: What are Germany's alternatives to Russian gas?

Even as a country with a strong environmental tradition, Germany is set to struggle this winter as it searches for green alternatives to Russian gas for both its heating and electricity needs.

Around half of German households use natural gas for heat and, with Russia having cut supplies by 80 percent, the average household is now looking at having to pay more than €500 a year extra for natural gas starting from October.

Experts are warning of a “winter of rage” characterised by protests and even riots. The gas levy, in which German gas suppliers are passing on a hike of 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour to consumers, has the federal government looking at ways to ease the burden – including possibly scrapping VAT on the levy.

Though gas use is down 14 percent so far this year, with Germans taking shorter, colder showers, and cities like Berlin and Cologne turning the lights off on some of their most famous landmarks at night, the real test will come this winter. 

So what alternatives does Germany have to Russian gas?

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How much will Germany’s gas levy cost you?

Renewables

Already, nearly half of all electricity produced in Germany comes from renewables, particularly solar power, after large investments in capacity from 2009 to 2012.

German economist Christian Odendahl argues that this figure would probably be higher today if those investments had continued.

“During sunny days like today, renewables would probably generate 100% of our power,” he tweeted.

At the same time, less than 20 percent of the energy Germans are actually consuming currently comes from renewables. Meanwhile, gas makes up 27 percent of the energy Germans actually use. Despite the increased renewable capacity – there’s still a long way to go before it will be able to replace gas.

READ ALSO: How Germany is saving energy ahead of uncertain winter?

Nuclear Energy

Germany’s current energy crisis has moved German politicians and public opinion towards something previously unthinkable: more support for nuclear energy. 41 percent of Germans are now in favour of long-term nuclear energy use.

Over three-quarters want to continue using it for at least a little while longer, while only 15 percent want to shut down the country’s three remaining nuclear power plants by the end of the year.

Opposition to nuclear energy is one of the reasons the German Green party – currently a member of the traffic light coalition government – was originally founded and gained popularity. The move to shut down nuclear power in Germany by the end of 2022 has found wide public and political support for decades, with opinion polling shifting only recently.

The government is currently debating whether to extend the life of existing nuclear power plants beyond the end of this year.

Alternative natural gas and coal

On a trip to Norway this week, Chancellor Olaf Scholz thanked the Scandinavian country for increasing its gas deliveries to Germany by about 10 percent – amidst warnings that Norway was already sending Germany about as much as it could deliver.

At the same time, work has begun on five temporary terminals for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) on ships from gas-producing countries like the United States and Qatar. Some of the temporary terminals, which are located in Wilhelmshaven, Brunsbüttel, Stade, and Lubmin on the northern German coast, could be finished as early as the end of this year.

There are also plans to start construction on two permanent terminals at Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel before the end of this year.

Environmental groups, however, are already protesting against the construction of the terminals.

At the same time, German coal plants resumed operations in early August, amidst concerns both moves could put Germany’s climate goals in jeopardy.

READ ALSO: Could Germany’s gas supplies last the winter?

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