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ENERGY

‘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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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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