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Germany is the first European country for Russian gas consumption. Before invading Ukraine, it bought more than half of the gas it uses from Russia and planned to import more via a new pipeline. On the other hand, it now has to reduce its consumption by 15 percent, like the rest of the European Union, and is beginning to take precautions to forestall any new cuts or bans by Russia. Especially with regard to the winter: About half of German households are heated with gas (a third of the fuel consumption is attributable to households) and if it gets particularly cold in the winter months, this could become a big problem.
Measures are being taken both nationally and locally. Some German cities are giving residents economic incentives to reduce their consumption, others have reduced street lighting and the use of traffic lights; Many municipalities have lowered the temperature of public swimming pools. In Berlin, the evening and night lights that illuminate the exteriors of 200 monuments and historic buildings of tourist interest have been turned off.
The city that has introduced the most detailed energy saving plan to date is Hanover in the north of the country. It banned the use of hot water in public toilets and showers at swimming pools, gymnasiums and gyms, halted the operation of public fountains, turned off the outside lights of City Hall and museums, and banned the use of portable air conditioners and turning on heating systems before the end of September .
At the national level, attempts have been made for months to reduce dependence on Russian gas. Economy Minister Robert Habeck has made some tough decisions for a member of the Greens, like reopening coal-fired power stations – they’re more polluting than gas-fired ones, but Germany has plenty. The government has also decided to buy liquefied natural gas (also known as LNG) from other countries such as Qatar and the United States and invest in building facilities that will allow its use, as the country has not done so.
In the meantime, there seem to be divisions among the Greens between those who might be willing to postpone the final shutdown of the still active German nuclear power plants, which is planned for the end of the year, by a few months, and those who don’t want to know. Phasing out nuclear power has always been one of the main goals of the Greens in Germany and the issue is being felt especially in Bavaria, where a power plant near Munich produces 12 percent of the state’s electricity and natural gas tanks are particularly out of stock.
Habeck also appealed to the population to reduce gas consumption by proposing ever shorter showers and reducing the use of facilities to heat and cool rooms. Some of these appeals may have had an effect: The Federal Association for Energy and Water Management (BDEW) announced that almost 15 percent less gas is being used nationwide than at the same time last year. But this also has to do with the increase in energy costs, which have doubled since the end of 2021 and will rise again from 1 October with the introduction of a “solidarity surcharge” of 5 cents per kilowatt hour, which aims to partially offset the cost increase for gas importers.
In winter it becomes more difficult to enforce heating restrictions and electric heaters are now sold out in shops in many cities. To deal with the rising costs for families, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has promised to increase housing subsidies and introduce measures to avoid evictions for those unable to pay their heating bills.
Industries, which use a third of the gas consumed in Germany, have also been asked to try to reduce their consumption and some results have been achieved. Automaker Mercedes-Benz said on Wednesday it had reduced its gas consumption by 10 percent and could even halve it without curbing its industrial activity.
A solution to reduce office consumption this winter could be to rely more on working from home, something that has already been experienced with the coronavirus pandemic: abandoning offices could result in an energy saving of 5 percent, according to some studies percent lead. Meanwhile, some politicians in Bavaria are wondering whether it is appropriate to cancel Oktoberfest, the traditional beer festival that takes place between September and October in Munich and many other cities, for the third year in a row to use less energy.