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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.

This aerial view taken with a drone shows solar panels on the roof of a logistics company's freight processing hall in Aurach, southern Germany.
This aerial view taken with a drone shows solar panels on the roof of a logistics company's freight processing hall in Aurach, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

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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ENERGY

Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

Germany said Monday it was investigating an unexplained pressure drop in the inactive Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, which was blocked by Berlin in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

The operator said it was “relatively likely that there’s a leak” in the underwater pipeline, which runs beneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

Authorities had spotted a “large bubble field near Bornholm”, a Danish island in the Baltic, Nord Stream 2 spokesman Ulrich Lissek told AFP.

“The pipeline was never in use, just prepared for technical operation, and therefore filled with gas,” he said.

There was, however, “no clarity” over the cause of the pressure drop in the underwater link, or whether the issue was related to a section of the pipe in “German sovereign waters”, a spokeswoman for the German economy ministry said.

Officials were working to “clarify the situation,” the spokeswoman said, adding that Danish authorities had been alerted to the issue.

The pipeline, which runs parallel to Nord Stream 1 and was intended to roughly double the capacity for undersea gas imports from Russia, was blocked by Berlin in the days before the invasion of Ukraine. Germany, which was highly dependent on imports of fossil fuels from Russia to meet its energy needs, has since come under acute stress as Moscow has dwindled supplies.

Russian energy giant Gazprom progressively reduced the volumes of gas being delivered via the Nord Stream 1 until it shut the pipeline completely at the end of August, blaming Western sanctions for the delay of necessary repairs to the pipeline.

READ ALSO: Germany’s gas storage facilities ‘over 90 percent full’

Germany has rebuffed Gazprom’s technical explanation for the cut, instead accusing Moscow of wielding energy as a weapon amid tensions over the Ukraine war.

Kremlin representatives have previously suggested that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should be allowed to go into operation.

It was “technically possible” to continue deliveries, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in August.

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who signed off on the first Nord Stream pipeline in his final days in office, has also called on Berlin to reconsider its position on the blocked second link.

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