Germany at risk of gas shortages as consumption cutting target missed

Country has scrambled to open up new sources of energy since start of Ukraine war

Germany is saving less gas than necessary to rule out shortages this winter, the head of the German grid agency has said, as the country missed its crucial target of a 20% cut in consumption last week amid dropping temperatures.

Germany, which used to draw about half of its natural gas needs from Russia before the start of the Ukraine war, has scrambled to open up new sources of energy during the last ten months.

Nonetheless, in the summer, the economy minister, Robert Habeck, announced a target of overall savings of 20% across Germany, higher than the 15% goal set by the European Commission.

After a relatively mild autumn during which German businesses and households saved more gas than required by the emergency plan, and storage tanks rose to almost 100% as a result, a cold snap at the end of last week has rung alarm bells.

“Currently, the total savings are only 13%,” Klaus Müller, the head of the federal network agency for utilities, Bundesnetzagentur, told Tagesspiegel newspaper on Monday.

“If this remains an outlier, we need not worry yet. But it will remain cold in the next few days,” he said. “With temperatures of -10C [14F], gas consumption shoots up dramatically.”

For now, Germany’s gas storage tanks remain about 95% full, and the country is planning to ceremonially unveil its first terminal for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) at the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven on Saturday.

“We are now getting gas from several sources,” Müller said. “We will soon have three terminals for liquid gas, and we are getting good deliveries from Norway, Holland, Belgium and also via France.”

He dismissed the possibility of households switching to electric heaters and overloading the grid. During cold snaps in November people could have had “the stupid and expensive idea of heating their homes with electricity instead of gas,” Müller said. “Luckily no one did that.”

With the stoppage of Russia gas deliveries looking permanent after the explosions at the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in September, however, there continues to be nervous uncertainty in Berlin about gas rationing in the winter of 2023-24, as well as the possibility of acts of sabotage on other areas of critical energy infrastructure.

If the German government was to announce a gas emergency, Müller’s agency would have a choice between rationing gas supply to entire German regions, to individual companies with especially high demands, or to sectors of industry it declares non-vital.

In an interview with the Guardian last month, Müller said meeting the 20% savings target would require an “unrelenting effort”, and stressed the importance of governments urging its citizens to make savings.

“I think it’s important for governments to come clean with their citizens: without a significant reduction in our gas use we won’t get through this winter without problems,” Müller said. “Campaigns urging consumers to make such savings are the right thing to do, because they can be empowering. Keeping quiet about the risks, or denying them, that strikes me as the wrong strategy.”


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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