Germany races to tighten gas austerity

Instead of planning traditional festivals, Wolfgang Hubschle is now tasked with finding ways to minimize energy use in Bavaria.

Wolfgang Hubschle, economic adviser to the city government of Augsburg in Bavaria, Germany, is now one of the pioneers in the “gas war” with Russia. European Union (EU) leaders have reached an agreement to reduce gas consumption by 15%, due to concerns that Russia will completely cut off supply in response to Western sanctions.

Nowhere is that fear greater than in Germany, Europe’s largest consumer of Russian gas. With more than half of its supply coming from pre-conflict Moscow, cheap Russian gas is the bedrock of Germany’s powerful industry. German authorities even planned to double the supply with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but the project was suspended after the Ukraine conflict broke out.

The city of Augsburg is now one of the leaders in Germany’s energy-saving efforts. Hubschle believes that the efforts of Germany, like many others across Europe, will not only help them get through a difficult energy period, but can also prevent Russia from using gas as a weapon of power. pressed in winter.

“If President Vladimir Putin sees that he could hurt Europe’s biggest economies, he will not hesitate to cut off gas supplies. But if he realizes the impact is not too great, he will choose to choose. continue to sell gas to increase revenue, instead of cutting supply,” Hubschle said.

A fountain stops working in Augsburg, Germany.  Photo: NY Times.

A fountain stops working in Augsburg, Germany. Image: New York Times.

About half of households in Germany are heated by gas, while industry consumes a third of this energy. If next winter turns colder, the gas supply cut will have a very serious impact.

But winter weather and Moscow’s calculations are both very unpredictable. It is also difficult for economists to assess whether the gas supply cut could cause the German economy to face a recession of 3% or 20%.

But what Hubschle knows well is that with skyrocketing energy prices, Augsburg’s costs have increased by 80%, to around 11 million euros. Authorities are trying to find a way to keep people from having to bear the cost.

Augsburg Mayor Eva Weber has even ordered the shutdown or hours of operation of many fountains linked to the city’s 800-year-old water management system.

These initiatives come after months of push by German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who has taken many difficult steps for a Green politician, such as reopening thermal power plants and building building more infrastructure for liquefied natural gas (LNG), as well as signing contracts to buy LNG from Qatar and the US.

In a recent post on social media, Mr. Habeck advised Germans to change their daily habits, in an effort to join the country in achieving the goal of saving 20% ​​of energy.

“If you think changing the shower or lowering the heater doesn’t make any difference, you’re lying to yourself. It’s just an excuse to do nothing,” Mr. Habeck said.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to increase housing subsidies and ensure tenants are not evicted for owed energy bills. This week, Munich announced an “energy bonus” of 100 euros for households to cut their annual consumption by 20%, while power companies launched an energy-saving contest for customers on Sunday. this fall.

The Energy and Water Association says Germany is using nearly 15% less gas than it did in the same period last year, a trend it attributed in part to record energy prices. The cost will increase further in early October, when the government adopts a policy of charging a gas surcharge.

In many German cities, fan heaters and wood-burning fireplaces have “sold out”, while those who order mini solar battery systems to power home appliances will have to wait quite a while.

Claudia Kemfert, an expert at the German Institute for Economic Research, said such savings efforts were important, but worried that the government was too focused on urging people to reduce energy use, without taking action. more strongly with the business.

Companies often cut gas consumption only when they have no other choice. Mercedes-Benz said on July 27 that it had reduced gas consumption by 10% and could increase savings by up to 50%, while maintaining full operations.

However, Augsburg city officials say they cannot conclude how effective the energy-saving measures can be until more data is available.

In Munich, the capital of the southern state of Bavaria and the heart of German industry, Deputy Mayor Katrin Habenschade was skeptical.

“Honestly I don’t believe the results for energy-saving efforts will be as high as expected. I believe we need more solutions,” she said.

As the Deputy Mayor responsible for economic affairs, she helped the city determine the level of gas consumption cuts with companies and factories. Many businesses in the city are trying to come up with excuses not to cut gas use.

A gas storage facility in Bierwang, Germany in June. Photo: AFP.

A gas storage facility in Bierwang, Germany in June. Photo: AFP.

Bavaria is a state of particular interest, because there are many corporations that play an important role in German industry, such as BMW and Siemens. However, the state government does not want to put too much pressure on businesses to cut gas consumption and increase the shift to renewable energy.

This reluctance makes Bavaria particularly vulnerable to a “gas war” with Russia, Habenschade said.

In the Bavarian cities of Augsburg and Munich, government officials were asked to come up with new energy-saving initiatives. After an official in Augsburg singled out the city’s two data centers as a major energy user, the local government is considering whether one can be decommissioned.

Many local leaders are also re-evaluating traditional German activities that consume a lot of energy, such as beer festivals or Christmas markets. Mr. Hubschle suggested that Bavaria should close famous breweries to prevent their chemical industry from facing a gas shortage.

Rosi Steinberger, a member of the Bavarian parliament, has turned off most of the lights in her office to cut down on energy consumption. She is debating whether to propose the cancellation of the famous Oktoberfest beer festival, as the decision is sure to attract a wave of anger from Munich residents. The beer festival is scheduled to be held again this fall, after a two-year pause due to the pandemic.

“I haven’t made that proposal yet,” she said with a strained look on her face. “But when people say there shouldn’t be a no-go zone in an effort to save energy, canceling the beer festival is the way to go.”

Thanh Tam (Theo New York Times)

Leave a Comment