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ENERGY

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

Russia on Thursday resumed critical gas supplies to Europe through Germany, reopening the Nord Stream gas pipeline after 10 days, but uncertainty lingered whether the continent could avert an energy crisis this winter.

Sunrise over the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline and the transfer station of the OPAL long-distance gas pipeline in the industrial area of Lubmin.
Sunrise over the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline and the transfer station of the OPAL long-distance gas pipeline in the industrial area of Lubmin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

“It’s working,” a Nord Stream spokesman said, without specifying the amount of gas being delivered.

The German government had feared that Moscow would not reopen the pipeline after the scheduled work.

It believes Russia is squeezing supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to data provided by Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom to Gascade, the German operator of the line, 530 gigawatt hours (GWh) would be delivered during the day.

Klaus Müller, head of Germany’s energy regulator, the Federal Network Agency, said that by late morning gas flows were on track to return to 40 percent of the pipeline’s capacity – the same reduced level as before the maintenance work.

“But given the missing 60 percent (of supply) and political instability, there is no reason to sound the all-clear,” he said.

Gazprom has cut flows to Germany via the vital Nord Stream 1 pipeline in recent weeks, blaming the absence of a Siemens gas turbine that was undergoing repairs in Canada.

READ ALSO: Putin ‘threatens Germany with further gas reductions’

The German government has rejected Gazprom’s explanation.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Baltic Sea has been shut down since July 11th to undergo annual maintenance.

But the resumption of 40 percent of supplies would be insufficient to ward off an energy crisis in Europe this winter, according to experts.

The European Commission on Wednesday urged EU countries to reduce demand for natural gas by 15 percent over the coming months to secure winter stocks and defeat Russia’s “blackmail”.

Announcing an emergency plan, EU commissioners also asked member states to give Brussels special powers to impose compulsory energy rationing if Russia cuts off Europe’s gas lifeline.

A total shutdown of imports or a sharp reduction in the flow from east to west could have a catastrophic effect on the European economy, shutting factories and forcing households to turn down the heat.

Last year, Russia accounted for 40 percent of the EU’s total gas imports and any further disruption to supply would also push consumer prices higher and raise the risk of a deep recession.

“Russia is blackmailing us,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.

“Russia is using energy as a weapon and therefore, in any event, whether it’s a partial major cut-off of Russian gas or total cut-off… Europe needs to be ready.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has played hot and cold in recent days in his threats to cut off gas deliveries to the bloc of 27 members, but Brussels is asking EU countries to prepare for the worst.

READ ALSO: How the German economy would be hit by a Russian gas stop

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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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