Facing the prospect of falling thermometers, Germans are bracing for a difficult winter due to gas shortages from Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine six months ago has turned the world energy market upside down.
In Europe’s capitals, the idea of cold radiators or stopped factories horrifies the German government, which knows that Vladimir Putin uses the energy weapon strategically.
The drop in deliveries has triggered gas prices, and accordingly, those of electricity, since many thermal power plants run on gas; oil has also risen before falling again.
The war has unleashed the “first true global energy crisis in history,” says Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IAEA). And Europe is located at “the epicenter of the storm”.
The gas crisis in Germany
Gas is so important —especially for highly dependent countries like Germany, because of its heavy industry— that it has been left out of the European sanctions on Russia, which do include coal (total embargo) and oil (progressive embargo). .
The already considerably diminished flows in the very important Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany “will fluctuate between zero and 20% of capacity in the coming months, which will cause a recession in Europe in the winter of 2022/23”, predicts Matt Oxenford of The Economist Intelligence Unit.
And if there is a shortage, the authorities will cut supply first to companies: in both France and Germany, governments are deciding which ones to cull first.
Use coal to save gas
The German government approved a regulation on July 13 that allows coal and oil-based power plants that are part of the energy reserve to return to operation in order to save gas.
The regulation, which comes into force tomorrow, will allow these plants to return to the electricity market temporarily until the end of next winter, the Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection reported in a statement.
The measure, made possible by the approval a week before of the new Replacement Power Plant Law, is part of a package promoted by the Ministry to reduce gas consumption in the electricity production sector.
“We want to save gas now in the summer to fill our tanks for the winter,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who also holds the rank of deputy chancellor, said in this regard.
Habeck added that the reactivation of coal and oil plants will save between 5 and 10 terawatt hours of natural gas in Germany and as many in the rest of Europe.
Coal production, insufficient
Such a rush in summer, everyone wants coal, we’ve never seen anything like this,” says Frithjof Engelke, Berlin supplier of this disused fuel and once again coveted in Germany due to the gas crisis that is expected to worsen starting in the fall.
The feared shortage of Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine is causing an unusual demand from individuals for this form of heating, despite its harmfulness.
With all these new private customers appearing, it is difficult to keep up with the high demand and many small coal merchants in the capital no longer have anything to sell.
“We produce at full capacity during the summer, with three shifts, seven days a week,” Thoralf Schirmer, a spokesman for the LEAG company, located in the Lusatia mining basin (east), tells AFP.
The other factory supplying the market in Germany, based in the Rhine basin, will stop production at the end of the year, further reducing supply at a time when Vladimir Putin has already partially cut off the gas tap to Germany.
They rule out the use of nuclear power plants
The German Economy Minister, Robert Habeck, ruled out this Sunday the possibility of extending the useful life of the three nuclear power plants that remain in the country, stating that this would save a maximum of 2% of gas consumption.
These savings are not enough to make it worthwhile to reopen the debate on nuclear power, the official said during a debate with citizens at the government’s open day.
The plants are scheduled to close by the end of the year under legislation introduced by former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan.
“It’s a wrong decision considering how little we would save,” Habeck said.
However, Habeck was open to extending the life of a nuclear power plant in Bavaria if a stress test shows that it is necessary to ensure the stability and supply of the power grid in winter. Test results are expected in the coming weeks.
With information from AFP and Reuters