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ENERGY

Why Germany is discussing whether people should ‘freeze by law’

German ministers and government officials are at loggerheads over whether the minimum temperature in homes should be reduced for the winter to ward off a gas supply crisis.

Why Germany is discussing whether people should ‘freeze by law’
Adjusting the temperature on a heater. Photo: Franziska Gabbert/dpa

Against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the potential impact that could have on gas deliveries to Germany, politicians are weighing up several possibilities for trying to cut back on energy usage.

One particularly controversial proposal would mean changing the law to allow landlords to drop the heating standards in rented homes and apartments.

The background

Ever since Russia launched an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in late February, gas deliveries have become a key weapon of diplomacy.

Western countries hand have threatened to stop all future gas purchases from Russia as retribution for its serious breaches of international law. 

Russia for its part has already cut deliveries to various neighbouring as it seeks to push up energy prices in the West in retaliation for the military support being provided to Kyiv.

This week Russian state energy company Gazprom announced that it would slash gas supplies to Germany through the Nord Stream pipeline, citing repair work that needed to be done on the underwater line. The German government claimed that the move was in fact politically motivated.

While Germany’s gas reservoirs are currently filled to roughly 56 percent – a level that is normal for this time of year – the government has said that they needed to be filled up completely before the winter in preparation for a further escalation of the crisis.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck has been clear that if the country’s gas reserves aren’t beefed up the government will step in to force people to reduce their energy consumption.

“We can’t go into the winter at 56 percent. That’s when the gas reserves have to be full. Otherwise we are really exposed”, Habeck said this week.

“If storage volumes don’t increase, then we will have to take further action to conserve energy, by law if necessary,” he warned.

What is being proposed?

Several influential voices called this week for the government to take a step to lower energy usage that would have a direct impact on tenants in rental properties during the winter months.

In a country where the majority of people live in rental properties, the government is coming under pressure to change a law that requires landlords to heat apartments to at least 20C in the day time and 18C at night time.

Klaus Müller, who heads the Federal Network Agency, the government authority that oversees Germany’s energy infrastructure, said on Thursday that he advocated such a step.

“In tenancy law, there are specifications according to which the landlord must set the heating system so that a minimum temperature of between 20C and 22C is achieved,” Müller said. “The state could temporarily lower the specifications for landlords. We are discussing this with politicians.”

The proposal is also being backed at the level of local government.

Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities said that the obligation to ensure a temperature of at least 20 degrees “must be changed.” 

“Even an apartment heated to 18 or 19 degrees Celsius can still be comfortably inhabited. People should be able to bear this comparatively small sacrifice,” Landsberg said.

The Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies (GdW) has also thrown its weight behind the proposal.

“Should gas supplies to Germany be significantly curtailed in the future and a shortage situation arise, the legal framework should be adapted to allow further reductions in the minimum temperature to a maximum lower limit of 18 degrees during the day and 16 degrees at night,” GdW head Axel Gedaschko told the newspapers of the Funke media group.

‘Freezing by law’

But Germany’s Housing Minister, Klara Geywitz of the Social Democrats, responded angrily to the proposal on Friday, describing it as an attempt to “make freezing compulsory.”

“Legally mandated freezing is nonsensical,” Geywitz said. She stated that the legal minimum was set at 20C because anything below that could be hazardous to people’s health.

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She added that the government should instead rely on tenants to make sensible choices.

Updates to the law already made in recent months meant that tenants “can check their consumption regularly and are already increasingly doing so simply because of the rising prices,” she said. 

Bavarian state leader Markus Söder came out angrily against dropping heating standards on Friday, tweeting that should a measure would be “an admission on bankruptcy” on the part of the government.

Söder said that the government needed to organize an immediate “gas summit” to hash out a plan against a “looming energy crisis” and asked why gas was not being delivered from new suppliers to replace Russian imports.

It is still unclear where Habeck, who is vice-Chancellor as well as heading the powerful Economy Ministry, stands on the subject.

Asked whether he was considering an adjustment to the minimum heating temperature this week, he responded that “we haven’t dealt with that in depth yet. We will look at all the laws that make a contribution there.”

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ENERGY

Germany to turn thermostat down as gas shortage looms

Germany will limit heating in public buildings over the winter to save on gas as Russia throttles supplies to Europe, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Friday.

Germany to turn thermostat down as gas shortage looms

“Public properties – with the exception of hospitals and other parts of the social system, of course – will only be heated to 19C,” Habeck told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in an interview.

Public buildings and monuments will also not be lit at night, a measure already taken individually by some cities, as Germany searches for ways to save energy.

READ ALSO: Cold showers to turning off lights: How German cities are saving energy

The recent reduction of gas supplies from Russia, amid tensions over the invasion of Ukraine, has forced the government to act.

Europe’s largest economy, which relies heavily on gas to heat homes and power industry, is trying to wean itself off Russian imports, while avoiding shortages over the winter.

The government has mandated gas storage facilities to be filled almost fully by December and restarted mothballed coal-power plants to take the strain off gas-fired units.

A public information drive has been launched and the government has also subsidised public transport over the summer.

Among the other measures decided in July was a move to ban the heating of private pools with gas.

Habeck, who has said he personally is taking shorter showers to save hot water, said that “more energy savings are needed in the world of work, too.”

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