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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

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  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

Gas crunch pushes German glassmaker to the brink

In 400 years, Heinz-Glas, one of the world's biggest producers of glass perfume bottles, has seen off many crises - including World Wars and the oil shock of the 1970s in the last century alone. But Germany's current energy emergency strikes at the heart of its very existence.

Gas crunch pushes German glassmaker to the brink

“We are experiencing an exceptional situation,” Murat Agac, deputy chief executive of the family-owned company founded in 1622, told AFP.

“If there is a halt in gas supplies… then glass production will very likely disappear” from Germany, he said.

To make glass, sand is heated to temperatures of up to 1,600C and gas is the most frequently chosen source of energy.

Until recently, a glut of gas flowing to Germany via a pipeline from Russia had helped keep production costs low, allowing Heinz-Glas to book annual revenues of some €300 million.

With competitive prices, exports made up 80 percent of the glassmaker’s total output.

But this economic model is now being called into question after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Energy crisis to labour shortage – Five challenges facing Germany right now 

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the resolve of Europe’s biggest economy in backing Ukraine.

Berlin is scrambling for alternative energy sources to replace the resource that once made up 55 percent of its total gas imports.

The consequence: soaring energy prices.

For Heinz-Glas, that has meant a “ten- to 20-fold increase” in costs compared to 2019, said Agac.

READ ALSO: German government fears millions of heating systems could fail in winter

‘3,000 football fields of solar panels’ 

Not only Heinz-Glas, much of Germany’s industry is buckling under the gas supply crunch.

Many companies are drawing up emergency plans as the German government has warned that Russian gas could stop flowing entirely.

With winter looming, the crisis is reaching fever pitch.

Chemicals giant BASF is looking at replacing gas with fuel oil in its second-biggest German factory.

Henkel, which specialises in adhesives and sealants, is considering whether its employees can work from home.

But the consequences of a total halt in Russian gas flows could be irreparable for many companies.

At the Heinz-Glas factory in Kleintettau, opened in 1661, around 70 tonnes of small glass bottles are produced each day, moulded by the heat of the furnaces.

An employee inspects flacons on an assembly line at the German glass producer Heinz-Glas Group in Kleintettau, Germany on August 3rd, 2022.

An employee inspects flacons on an assembly line at the German glass producer Heinz-Glas Group in Kleintettau, Germany on August 3rd, 2022. Photo: Ronny Hartmann / AFP

The delicate vessels adorned with intricate motifs are then sent to the company’s clients — including its biggest, French group L’Oreal — which fill them with perfume.

At every step of the production process — from making the material with quartz sand to the final sculpting of the bottle — heat is essential.

At the company’s second-biggest factory in the mountain village of Piesau, a cut in gas would permanently damage its glass furnace, said Agac.

To ward off the danger in the short term, Heinz-Glas has invested in stocks of liquefied gas, which can be driven in by trucks.

But that triples the energy bill, and would still not be sufficient – the two German factories need the equivalent of “3,000 football fields of solar
panels” to operate.

In the long term, replacing the entire gas system with electric infrastructure would cost €50 million, Agac said, a sum which the company cannot afford.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Even in the factory of Kleintettau, where furnaces are powered by electricity, around 40 percent of the industrial processes still require gas.

“We need state support,” said Agac, warning that the firm may otherwise be forced to shift production elsewhere, such as India or China, where it already has a factory.

For the 1,500 employees of the company in Germany, the future looks cloudy.

“I’ve reached an age when it doesn’t matter so much for me anymore. But younger people must be fearing job losses,” said Michaela Trebes, 61, inspecting hundreds of little flasks emerging from the production lines.

But for now, the management remains optimistic that Heinz-Glas can pull through.

Since 1622, “there have been enough crises… in the 20th century alone, World War I, World War II, the oil crisis in the 70s, many, many critical situations. We survived them all,” said Agac.

“We will somehow also overcome this crisis.”

By Florian CAZERES

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