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ENERGY

‘Scarce commodity’: Germany raises gas alert level as Russia reduces supply

Germany said Thursday it would raise the alert level under its emergency gas plan to secure supply following the recent reduction of pipeline supplies from Russia.

German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks at an industry event on June 21st.
German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks at an industry event on June 21st. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

“Gas is now a scarce commodity in Germany,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters.

Triggering phase two brings Germany a step closer to the third and final stage that could see gas rationing in Europe’s top economy.

Germany first activated the first stage of the emergency gas plan at the end of March. At the time Habeck said it was a precautionary measure to prepare for any supply restrictions in future. 

READ ALSO: Germany activates emergency gas plan to secure supply

Russia was using gas “as a weapon” against Germany in retaliation for the West’s support for Ukraine following Moscow’s invasion, Habeck said on Thursday. 

Germany, like a number of other European countries, is highly reliant on Russian energy imports to meet its needs.

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Russian energy giant Gazprom last week significantly reduced supplies via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany by 60 percent due to what the company said was a delayed repair.

The second “alarm” level under the government’s emergency plan reflected a “significant deterioration of the gas supply situation”, Habeck said.

At the “alarm” level, Germany is still considered to be in a position to “manage” the situation for the time being.

Habeck said that households “can make a difference” by saving energy, as Germany launches a campaign to encourage gas saving measures.

Germany has dismissed the technical justification provided by Gazprom, instead calling the move a “political decision”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday there was “no double meaning” in the supply decision.

“Our German partners are well aware of the technological servicing cycles of a pipeline,” he said.

“It’s strange to call it politics.”

In recent weeks, Gazprom has stopped deliveries to a number of European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria, Finland and the Netherlands.

German gas stores just under 60 percent full

Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) said the second stage means that the security of supply is still guaranteed, but the situation is tense.

“The reason for declaring the alert stage is the cut in gas supplies from Russia, which has been in place since June 14th 2022, and the continuing high price level on the gas market,” said the Ministry in a statement.

The Ministry said that gas storage facilities were currently at 58 percent. But there are concerns over the reduction of gas deliveries from Russia via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

“This means that there is currently a disruption in gas supply, which is leading to a considerable deterioration in the gas supply situation; it is therefore necessary to declare an alert stage,” said the Ministry.

Germany has mandated that gas storage facilities be filled to 90 percent ahead of the European winter this year to mitigate the risks from a supply cut.

The country has managed to reduce the share of its natural gas supplied by Russia from 55 percent before the invasion to around 35 percent.

It has also sought new sources of supply, and accelerated plans to import gas into the country by sea in the form of LNG.

What is the emergency plan?

Germany’s gas emergency plan, which is based on a 2017 EU regulation, has three escalation levels – the early warning stage, the alert level and the emergency level.

According to the law, the early warning stage should be declared if there are “concrete, serious and reliable indications that an event may occur which is likely to lead to a significant deterioration of the gas supply situation and is likely to trigger the alarm or emergency stage”.

At the third “emergency” stage, the government intervenes in the market to divvy up limited supplies. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany has urged households and businesses to cut back on gas

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ENERGY

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

The more the sun shines in the southern German town of Aurach, the more likely it is that Jens Husemann's solar panels will be disconnected from the grid -- an exasperating paradox at a time when Germany is navigating an energy supply crisis.

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

“It’s being switched off every day,” Husemann told AFP during a recent sunny spell, saying there had been more than 120 days of forced shutdowns so far this year.

Husemann, who runs an energy conversion business near Munich, also owns a sprawling solar power system on the flat roof of a transport company in Aurach, Bavaria.

The energy generated flows into power lines run by grid operator N-Ergie, which then distributes it on the network.

But in sunny weather, the power lines are becoming overloaded — leading the grid operator to cut off supply from the solar panels.

“It’s a betrayal of the population,” said Husemann, pointing to soaring electricity prices and a continued push to install more solar panels across Germany.

Europe’s biggest economy is eyeing an ambitious switch to renewables making up 80 percent of its electricity from 2030 in a bid to go carbon neutral.

N-ergie thermal power station

The thermal power station of energy supplier N-Ergie in Nuremberg, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spanner in the works.

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the European powerhouse’s resolve in backing Ukraine.

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take for Germany to turn off Russian gas?

As a result, Berlin has been scrambling for alternative sources across the world to replace the shortfall.

This makes it all the more frustrating for Husemann, whose solar panels normally generate enough electricity for 50 households. With the repeated shutdowns, he suspects they will only supply half of their capacity by the end
of the year.

Grid bottlenecks

Grid operator N-Ergie, which is responsible for harvesting electricity from Husemann’s panels, admits the situation is less than ideal.

There were 257 days last year when it had to cut off supply from solar panels on parts of the grid.

“We are currently witnessing — and this is a good thing — an unprecedented boom in photovoltaic parks,” Rainer Kleedoerfer, head of N-Ergie’s development department, told AFP.

An employee of energy supplier N-ERGIE working at the company's network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. 

An employee of energy supplier N-Ergie working at the company’s network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But while it takes just a couple of years to commission a solar power plant, updating the necessary infrastructure takes between five and 10 years, he said.

“The number of interventions and the amount of curtailed energy have increased continuously in recent years” as a result, according to N-Ergie spokesman Michael Enderlein.

“The likelihood is that grid bottlenecks will actually increase in the coming years,” while resolving them will take several more years, Enderlein said.

According to Carsten Koenig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, the problem is not unique to solar power and also affects wind energy.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Solar bottlenecks tend to be regional and temporary, he said. “Occasionally, however, we hear that especially in rural areas in Bavaria, the shutdowns are more frequent.”

2.4 million households

Koenig agrees the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“This will be especially true if political measures aimed at sufficiently expanding the power grid in Germany… drag on for too long,” he said.

Some 6.1 terawatt hours of electricity from renewables had to be curtailed in 2020, according to the most recent figures available.

With an average consumption of around 2,500 kilowatt hours per year in a two-person household, this would have been enough to power around 2.4 million households.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Network Agency said it did not share the belief that “it will not be possible to expand the network in line with demand in the coming years”.

Only some aspects of the expansion are seeing delays, the spokesman said — mainly due to slow approval procedures and a lack of specialist companies to do the work.

According to Husemann there have also been delays to the payments he is supposed to receive in return for the solar power he supplies — or cannot supply.

He said he is already owed around 35,000 euros ($35,600) for electricity produced so far this year that has never found its way into a socket.

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