How Germany is saving energy ahead of uncertain winter

AFP
AFP - [email protected] • 8 Jul, 2022 Updated Fri 8 Jul 2022 08:47 CEST
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Germany's Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck says he's taking quicker and cooler showers to tackle the energy crisis. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

The Nord Stream pipeline, which supplies Germany with most of its Russian gas, will be shut down for routine maintenance from Monday - with fears rising that it may remain off for good. Businesses have contingency plans, while the government is urging residents to do more.

Germany is already feeling the effects of the energy squeeze caused by the war in Ukraine, with many households and businesses turning down the thermostat or dimming the lights.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck has even made headlines for extolling the virtues of shorter, colder showers.

Now, nervousness abounds as the scheduled 10-day pause in deliveries via the vital Nord Stream pipeline threatens to make things even worse.

"No scenario can be ruled out," Habeck has warned.

READ ALSO: ‘Scarce commodity’: Germany raises gas alert level as Russia reduces supplies

Confronted with the risk that supplies may never return to previous levels, many businesses and local authorities have come up with contingency plans.

"It is possible that we will return to working from home, as we did during the pandemic - but this time to save energy in the national interest," Carsten Knobel, head of consumer chemicals group Henkel, told local media.

A man attends an online meeting.

A man attends an online meeting. Could Germany move to more working from home again to tackle the crisis? Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The VCI, a trade group representing the heavily gas-dependent German chemicals industry, has said it is preparing for "the worst-case scenario".

Chemicals giant BASF, meanwhile, has raised the possibility of putting its employees on furlough, a system already used during the coronavirus pandemic from 2020.

Perfume producer Symrise is falling back on an oil-powered furnace at its factory in Holzminden.

'One or two months'

Russia has already cut supplies via the Nord Stream pipeline by 60 percent in recent weeks, citing technical issues - which Berlin dismisses as cover for a "political" decision.

As a result, Germany's gas storage facilities are being filled at a slower pace than usual, leaving the country at risk of running into a  "gas shortage", according to Habeck.

"If we stop receiving gas from Russia... the quantities currently stored will only be sufficient for one or two months," said Klaus Müller, president of the Federal Network Agency.

Consumers "will be shocked when they receive a letter from their energy supplier" with a bill some three times higher than usual, Müller said.

READ ALSO: German households could see 'four-digit' rise in energy costs this winter

On Thursday, Germany's lower house of parliament or Bundestag passed a plan to turn off the hot water in its offices and keep the air temperature no higher than 20C in the winter.

Several local authorities have also put energy-saving plans in motion.

The Bavarian city of Augsburg has turned off its fountains, dimmed the facades of public buildings at night and is debating switching off some under-used traffic lights.

Traffic lights switched off in Augsburg in 2017. The city is debating turning some traffic lights off to save energy.

Traffic lights switched off in Augsburg in 2017. The city is debating turning some traffic lights off to save energy. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Puchner

Chilly nights

A housing cooperative in the eastern city of Dresden made national headlines when it announced it would limit hot water to certain times of day.

And Vonovia, Germany's largest property group, said on Thursday it plans to limit the temperature in its 350,000 homes to 17 degrees Celsius at night.

READ ALSO: Germany's largest landlord to restrict heating at night

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Germany has managed to reduce the share of its natural gas supplied by Russia from 55 percent to around 35 percent.

The country relies on gas for more than 50 percent of its heating needs.

In a bid to further reduce its reliance on Russian gas, Germany has put aside billions of euros (dollars( to buy liquefied natural gas from other producers such as Qatar or the United States.

But in the event of a total supply cut-off from Russia, the country "will have to make very difficult societal choices," according to Habeck.

The end of Russian gas deliveries would most likely plunge the country into a painful recession, with the economy shrinking by 6.5 percent between 2022 and 2023, according to a recent forecast by the country's top economic think tanks.

Already, the surge in energy prices created the first monthly trade deficit in the country in three decades in June, perhaps the first tremor of a bigger upheaval to come.

By Florian CAZERES

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AFP 2022/07/08 08:47

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