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ENERGY

‘Difficult winters ahead’: Germany sets out emergency energy-saving plans

Germany's Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck has set out plans, calling on households and workplaces around Germany to save energy ahead of the uncertain gas situation in winter.

'Difficult winters ahead': Germany sets out emergency energy-saving plans
A man works from home in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Speaking during a video statement, Habeck said that measures would have to be taken across the board – in homes, offices and governmental buildings. 

Habeck, of the Green party, warned that the coming two winters would be difficult for people in Germany and the rest of Europe.

He said “solidarity” within the EU was needed. “This winter, and also the next one, will present Europe with great challenges.”

As part of the so-called ‘energy security package’, Germany says higher filling level targets are needed for gas storage facilities. 

By September 1st, gas storage facilities in Germany will have to reach 75 percent, and by November 1st they should be 95 percent full. Up to now, the government said a filling level of 90 percent by November 1st was needed.

As of Wednesday, German gas reserves were about 65 percent of capacity according to official estimates. 

READ ALSO: ‘Save now’: German energy regulator warns gas bills could triple

Energy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks at a press conference in Vienna.

Energy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks at a press conference in Vienna. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/APA | Tobias Steinmaurer

Turn down heating, work from home

Habeck and his ministry also announced planned changes in the law that could affect private consumers.

Currently, there can be contractual obligations to maintain a minimum temperature in rented homes, the ministry said: “This means that if these tenants want to heat (rooms) less, they are in breach of their tenancy agreements”.

In consultation with other government departments, the ministry said, this regulation will likely be temporarily suspended “so that tenants who want to save energy and turn down the heating are allowed to do so”.

Homeowners will also not be allowed to heat private pools with gas “over this winter”, according to plans.

READ ALSO: Cost of living: How to save money in Germany this summer

When asked about any possible controlling of measures, Habeck said many restrictions during the Covid pandemic weren’t checked “and yet they worked, people kept to them”. 

“But I don’t think the police will now be checking if the pools are warm,” he said. 

His ministry also said that it makes sense not to heat rooms where people do not regularly spend time, such as corridors, large halls, foyers or others rooms – unless there are safety-related requirements.

For public facilities and office buildings, this will be regulated.

During the press conference Habeck also touched on other possible measures to save energy, such as calling on people to work from home.

“We need to talk about how we save energy through increased use of home office,” he said. However, Habeck said there were no plans at the moment to order this as a rule, but rather let employees and employers discuss it.

Habeck also announced a mandatory heating check, which owners of gas heating systems will have to organise in order to optimise their heating. In apartment buildings, there should also be hydraulic balancing so that the heating water is optimally distributed, he said.

To secure the supply, the Economics Minister also wants to reconnect lignite-fired power plants to the grid.

In his video address, Habeck angrily dismissed Russian claims that it was a guarantor of Europe’s energy supply, saying that Moscow had become a growing “insecurity factor” in the sector.

“In fact, Russia is using the great power we gave it to blackmail Europe and Germany,” Habeck said.

READ ALSO: Russia resumes ‘unstable’ gas supplies to Germany via Nord Stream 

Vocabulary 

Energy security package – Paket zur Energiesicherung

Measures – (die) Maßnahmen

Gas storage – (der) Gasspeicher

Consumers – (die) Verbraucher

Gas shortage – (der) Gasmangel

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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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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