‘No-one should freeze’: German cities plan public warming halls for winter

From turning off water fountains and turning down the temperature at pools, to preparing emergency halls for people to keep warm, districts across Germany are stepping up their plans in case there is a gas shortage.

A sign shows the water temperature at the Hiddesen open-air swimming pool in Detmold. Cities have been reducing the temperature of swimming pools as part of energy saving measures.
A sign shows the water temperature at the Hiddesen open-air swimming pool in Detmold. Cities have been reducing the temperature of swimming pools as part of energy saving measures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

With fears that Russia will further reduce or even cut the gas supply, Germany is trying to save energy ahead of the colder months.

Cities across the country are forming crisis teams and developing emergency plans. 

Ludwigshafen, a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, is planning to set up halls where people who can’t afford to heat their homes can warm up.

“We are currently preparing for all emergency scenarios with a view to autumn and winter,” mayor Jutta Steinruck, of the Social Democrats, told Bild newspaper. The Friedrich-Ebert-Halle is to serve as a central ‘warming-up’ station for members of the public.

READ ALSO: Germany frets over reduced Russia gas supplies

The multi-purpose hall, which previously hosted sporting events, exhibitions and concerts, was used as a vaccination centre during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of jabs, heat will be available there free of charge in future.

Other areas, such as Neustadt, Frankenthal and Landau, are also planning similar initiatives.

Head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, said other places in Germany should consider this.

“Since no one can say exactly how dramatic the development will be, consideration should be given to providing warmth islands or ‘warming rooms’ where elderly people in particular can stay during a very cold winter,” Landsberg told Bild am Sonntag.

At this stage, authorities are still unsure whether gas will be scarce in winter – but they are preparing for the worst case scenario.

Saving energy in the current situation is a task for society as a whole, Verena Göppert, deputy managing director of the German Association of Cities and Towns, told DPA.

She said cities are “turning off lights, not using hot water in public buildings, turning off fountains, and changing the temperature of air-conditioning systems and bathing water”.

Broken traffic lights in Augsburg in 2017.

Broken traffic lights in Augsburg in 2017. Cities may turn off some traffic lights at night to save energy. Photo: picture alliance / Stefan Puchner/dpa | Stefan Puchner

The Düsseldorf Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection said it was preparing to “save energy in the short term and to react to the gas shortage”.

According to a spokesperson, air-conditioning systems will not be used as much in summer, and the “availability of hot water in kitchens and sanitary facilities” will be reduced.

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

Meanwhile, the city of Rendsburg in northern Germany has cancelled its ice rink at this year’s Christmas market to save energy because the cooling units use a lot of electricity, a spokeswoman said last week. 

Göppert said cities are working out contingency plans with crisis teams and suppliers in case the federal government declares a gas emergency and gas is rationed. There is close coordination with the federal and state governments as well as the Federal Network Agency.

However, even if gas is rationed, residents will be protected. “If the gas tap is turned off in Germany, private households will be among the most protected customers, so they will be the last to have their energy rationed,” Göppert stressed.

“One thing is clear: no one should have to freeze in winter.”

In view of high energy costs and a possible further shortage of gas, the social association VdK Germany has urged for better protection for tenants and consumers.

No one should lose their flat in autumn and winter if heating costs can no longer be paid, VdK President Verena Bentele said.

“The ultimate goal must be that no one has to sit in a cold flat and go to a public room to keep warm,” she said.

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

On Monday, Russian firm Gazprom started 10 days of routine maintenance on its Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Monday, leaving Germany and other European countries anxiously waiting to see if the gas comes back on.

“We are confronted by an unprecedented situation – anything is possible,” German vice-chancellor Robert Habeck said at the weekend.

“It is possible that the gas will flow once more, even at a higher volume level than before.”

But, he warned that “it is possible that nothing comes through, and we still have to prepare for the worst”.

Germany imports about 35 percent of its gas from Russia compared with 55 percent before the Ukraine conflict started. 

Last week, German parliament agreed a plan which includes limiting winter heating to a maximum 20C and cutting hot water supplies in individual offices.

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Qatar agrees to ‘long-term gas supply’ deal with Germany

Qatar has agreed to send Germany two million tons of liquefied natural gas a year for at least 15 years, officials said Tuesday, as Europe's biggest economy scrambles for alternative supplies after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Qatar agrees to 'long-term gas supply' deal with Germany

Qatar’s Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi said up to two million tons of gas a year would be sent for at least 15 years from 2026, and that state-run QatarEnergy was discussing other possible deals for Europe’s biggest

Kaabi, who is also QatarEnergy’s chief executive, said so many European and Asian countries now want natural gas that he did not have enough negotiators to cope.

The talks for the latest deal took several months as Germany has resisted the long-term contracts that Qatar normally demands to justify its massive investment in the industry.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February increased pressure on the German government to find new sources. And the latest deal will not help the country get through the looming winter.

The gas will be bought through US firm ConocoPhillips, a long-term partner with QatarEnergy, and sent to a new terminal that Germany is hurrying to finish at Brunsbuttel.

“We are committed to contribute to the energy security of Germany and Europe at large,” Kaabi told a press conference after the signing ceremony with ConocoPhillips chief executive Ryan Lance.

Lance hailed the accord as “a vital contribution to world energy security”.

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

Qatar last week announced a 27-year agreement to ship four million tons a year to China. It said this was the longest contract agreed in the industry.

Qatari officials would not discuss prices but industry analysts have said Germany will have to pay a premium for the shorter contract and the hurried start to deliveries.

Intense demand

Kaabi again stressed the “sizeable investments” that his country has made in extracting gas for deliveries around the world.
But he also said that Qatar was negotiating with German companies to further increase the “volumes” being sent.

The gas will come from the North Field East and North Field South projects that Qatar is developing with ConocoPhillips and other energy multinationals.

North Field contains the world’s biggest natural gas reserves and extends under the Gulf into Iranian territory.

Through expansion in North Field, Qatar is aiming to increase its production by 60 percent by 2027. With increases in international prices, the value of its exports has almost doubled in the past year, state media said

Asian countries led by China, Japan and South Korea have been the main market for Qatar’s gas, but it has been increasingly targeted by European countries since Russia’s war on Ukraine threw supplies into doubt.

“There is very intense discussions with European buyers and with Asian buyers,” Kaabi said, highlighting the “scarcity of gas coming in the next few years”.

“We do not have enough teams to work with everybody, to cater for the needs” of all countries making demands.

Kaabi said the deal with China’s Sinopec showed that “Asian buyers are feeling the pressure of wanting to secure long-term deals… I think we are in a good position.”

The Brunsbuttel terminal supplies customers of German energy companies Uniper and RWE, and Economy and Energy Minister Robert Habeck said the two firms “have to buy on the world market.

“It is clear that the world market has different suppliers, and it is smart from the companies to buy the most favourable offers for the consumers on the world market, and that includes Qatar.

“But this is not the only supplier on the market.”