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ENERGY

Cold showers to turning off lights: How German cities are saving energy

A nationwide effort to save gas and electricity is underway as Germany faces a looming crisis. From cold showers to turning off lights, here's how cities and districts are reacting ahead of winter.

Swimmers at a pool in Hanover earlier this year.
Swimmers at a pool in Hanover earlier this year. The city says that hot water will no longer be available for showers in places like public swimming pools. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

Berlin’s monuments, like the TV tower, are usually lit up at night. But in an effort to save energy – and to set an example to people living in Germany – the city has decided to tone down the lights. 

It’s all part of the national effort as Germany faces a possible shortage of gas this winter, plus rocketing energy bills that will hit households hard. 

READ ALSO: Berlin monuments fall dark to save energy

The German government confirmed last week that it is bringing in a gas surcharge on customers from October, which will result in household bills rising by hundreds of euros – or even over €1,000 – per year. 

The levy aimed at propping up struggling gas supply companies which are having to replace gas that Russia has failed to deliver. 

READ ALSO: How much extra will households in Germany pay under new gas levy?

Last week, the city of Hanover in Lower Saxony announced it was implementing a huge energy-saving programme. 

The city aims to save at least 15 percent of energy consumption, and has set up a crisis team to deal with a possible gas shortage.

“The situation is unpredictable,” said Mayor Belit Onay of the Greens.

As part of the measures, only cold showers will be available in public facilities like swimming pools, sports halls and gyms. 

Furthermore, the city’s pools will no longer be heated with gas, and public fountains are being turned off.

Showers will be cold in public facilities in Hanover.

Showers will be cold in public facilities in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

And just like Berlin – as well as other cities in Germany – public buildings, museums and other sights will no longer be fully lit up at night. 

“It’s about every kilowatt hour and protecting critical infrastructure,” said Onay. He pointed out that Kitas (daycare centres), schools, nursing homes and clinics are exempt from the energy saving restrictions.

There are also stricter rules on heating. Public buildings will not have any heating from April to the end of September each year, with room temperatures limited to a maximum of 20C for the rest of the year, although there are some exemptions. In areas such as warehouses, technical rooms, corridors, the maximum will range from 10 to 15C.

The city is also banning portable air conditioners, heaters and radiators, while only cold water will be available for hand washing in public buildings. 

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“It’s no fun. But I hope the city community will go along with it,” said Onay. 

READ ALSO: ‘Difficult winters ahead’: Germany sets out emergency energy saving measures

Lower Saxony’s businesses seem to be following suit. In an IHK survey, two-thirds of 500 companies questioned said they foresaw putting in place potential savings of up to 10 percent on gas and electricity.

Other cities have been reacting to the energy crisis, too.

In Leipzig, city bosses have decided on a phased plan with the aim of saving around 15 percent energy. They will reduce room temperatures in public buildings and have already started turning down lights on monuments at night.

View of the unlit Monument to the Battle of the Nations. Against the background of the looming energy crisis, Leipzig has switched off the lighting of around 240 public buildings and landmarks.

View of the unlit Monument to the Battle of the Nations. Against the background of the looming energy crisis, Leipzig has switched off the lighting of around 240 public buildings and landmarks. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Willnow

In Munich there will be no hot water in district offices, room temperatures in public offices will be reduced to a maximum of 19C, while areas not in use will not be heated at all.

During the holidays, hot water will be turned off in all schools, and the lighting of municipal buildings such as the town hall on Marienplatz will be switched off.

Meanwhile, Nuremberg has temporarily closed three of its four indoor swimming pools during the summer months to save energy.

According to the city’s calculations, Nuremberg’s indoor and outdoor swimming pools need 9.4 million kilowatt hours of district heating and about 800,000 kilowatt hours of gas per year. By closing the pools for 72 days, NürnbergBad frees up heating energy for 383 households or about 1,500 people in the city, as well as electricity for 789 households or 3,100 people.

In Stuttgart, the water in outdoor pools has been heated only by solar energy since July 1st. A spokesman for the city said this means there is no longer a guaranteed water temperature.

Tübingen is focusing on the massive expansion of renewable energy and the use of heat pumps. According to a spokesperson, lighting and heating are to be reduced to the minimum, too.

Earlier in July, the Bavarian city of Augsburg turned off its fountains, dimmed the facades of public buildings at night and is considering switching off some under-used traffic lights.

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

Member comments

  1. Any previous German politician from the last 15 years should have gas and electricity turned off at their homes and offices. No exceptions

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ENERGY

REVEALED: Germany’s planned hardship fund to help with energy bills

The gas and electricity price caps are coming, and the government wants to pay people's energy bills in December - but will that be enough to stop people falling into hardship? Germany's Economics Ministry thinks it won't be and has drafted plans for a new hardship fund. Here's what you need to know.

REVEALED: Germany's planned hardship fund to help with energy bills

When Germany’s traffic light coalition parties – the SPD, Greens and FDP – took office last December, they had no idea that they would be facing an energy crisis on such a major scale.

But with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sending the gas market into turmoil, the coalition’s big plans have been put on the backburner as they work out how best to support people with rising costs. 

Under the latest set of energy relief measures put forward by the Gas Price Commission, the government will shoulder the cost of people’s energy bills this December. It also plans to introduce a cap on both electricity and gas prices, which will come into force next March and be backdated to January.

READ ALSO: Germany plans to cap energy prices from start of 2023

This multi-billion relief package is likely to soften the blow for many households, but according to a new government document obtained by Bild, ministers are concerned that it won’t be enough to stop many people – and businesses – falling into financial hardship.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, federal and state economists ministers want to set aside billions more for additional aid. 

Here’s who can get hold of the extra cash – and how.

Renters and private home owners

People who rent an apartment in Germany and home owners who live in their properties can access additional help from the state if they can prove they’re over-burdened by their heating and energy costs.

That could be due to an eye-wateringly high back-payment for energy bills demanded by the landlord or due to the fact that they have to purchase expensive fuel such as wood pellets for heating. 

More specifically, people claiming unemployment benefits such as Bürgergeld can get some extra cash from the Jobcenter after their bills are calculated by the landlord. If they’re facing a hefty back-payment, or Nachzahlung, they can get up to three months of Bürgergeld retroactively to help cover the costs. 

In addition, someone who wants to claim Bürgergeld for a single month will be spared from having to prove the amount of money they have in the bank. Under the ordinary rules for Bürgergeld claimants, job seekers must have less than €40,000 in savings.

According to the government’s calculations, this emergency buffer is set to cost around €500 million. Claims for additional support will be handled by the job centres or social offices.

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs)

Small business owners have been among the hardest hit by the energy crisis – but luckily help may be on its way. 

In the document obtained by Bild, ministers say they assume that the gas and electricity price cap will be an adequate level of support for most SMEs. Nevertheless, there could be a few circumstances in which business owners slip through the net:

  • Business owners may already be facing huge hikes in their energy bills before the price caps come into force, for example in the form of a big back-payment for energy costs over several months, or
  • Businesses may find that, due to exceptional circumstances, they’re still unable to pay their bills – even after the price caps are introduced. 

In these two scenarios, SMEs can apply for extra support from the government. 

To be eligible, businesses must either show that their energy costs quadrupled at least three months between January and November 2022, or they’ll have to show that their energy costs have also multiplied in spite of the energy price cap and that their business is highly energy-intensive or costly.

The government expects this support package to cost around €1 billion and says that the details will be worked out after state premiers agree to the proposals.  

READ ALSO: How electricity prices are rising across Germany

Housing companies 

Large landlords could also be in line for some additional government aid under the ministers’ plans. Due to the way the current rental system works, many are paying high bills for heating and energy that they’re not yet able to recoup from tenants in the end-of-year bill.

Housing complexes in Berlin.

Housing complexes in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

To help housing companies that are in this situation, the government wants to offer loans that could help tide them over. Twenty percent of this credit would be secured by the federal states, and the measure is expected to cost around €1.1 billion. 

Hospitals and care homes  

Care facilities and clinics face exorbitant energy bills – even in ordinary times – so this group of institutions will also be given financial aid, the draft said.

This will come in the form of a one-off support payment and ongoing support with gas and electricity bills. Hospitals and care homes will in many cases get their additional costs for energy completely refunded by the state until April 2024. Social agencies and social service providers will also be given subsidies and financial aid to help deal with their increased overheads. 

In addition, cultural sites and facilities like museums and art galleries will get subsidies intended to flatten out the rise in energy costs. In most cases, the energy price cap only applies to 80 percent of a business’ ordinary consumption, but this limit will be dispensed with for cultural institutions. 

However, the government says it still wants to incentive energy-saving measures as well as offering financial support. 

READ ALSO: When will people in Germany get their December gas bill payout?

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