Habeck: “It’s not a game”: The gas emergency is already threatening in December

The supply situation in Germany is coming to a head. Economics Minister Habeck makes no secret of the fact that the forecasts for the winter look bad. Now he’s going on alert. And it probably won’t stay that way.

Since last week, less gas has come through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. It is currently 40 percent. Economics Minister Robert Habeck has nevertheless waited until now to raise the “alert level” – the second stage of his contingency plan – to call out. There is a simple reason for this: the calculations for scenarios of what this could mean for Germany were not completed. Now they are. And the forecasts don’t look good for even the most optimistic case. “Most scenarios lead us very far into the zone of empty storage,” says Habeck. Although the security of supply is currently guaranteed, what “must alarm us is the perspective”.

In almost all of the scenarios calculated, Germany clearly misses its statutory targets for gas storage levels. In the best-case scenario, the stores could still be about 25 percent full in April 2023. But that will not happen, Habeck quickly clarifies. Unfortunately, the optimal case is also the most unlikely: The scenario assumes that Nord Stream 1 will continue to deliver the same amount of gas even after the announced maintenance phase in July. This is anything but certain. In addition, Germany would have to reduce its gas exports by around 40 percent in this case. And that excludes Habeck categorically.

The question of national solo efforts is out of the question, says the minister when asked. After all, Germany is also dependent on gas imports from abroad – for example from Norway or the Netherlands. However, this also means that, in the most likely cases, the gas storage facilities could be empty by January at the latest. The worst-case scenario even calculates a gas deficit of up to 107 terawatt hours for the winter. This corresponds to 10 percent of annual consumption. A gas shortage could occur as early as December.

Think about winter in summer

For this case, Habeck – as he says – has his “sharpest sword” ready. Should the Federal Network Agency determine a structural gas shortage, it could trigger paragraph 24 of the Energy Security Act (EnSig). For the energy suppliers, this would mean that they could pass on the increased costs for the purchase of gas immediately and in leaps and bounds to the customers – regardless of the prices set in the applicable contracts. By then at the latest it would also be expensive for private households.

Habeck promises that he wants to use this instrument with caution. But he also makes it clear: “How far away we are from that is speculation.” Paragraph 24 is an option at the latest when energy companies are about to collapse in the face of the cost-income gap. This is one of the reasons Habeck warns again to reduce energy consumption as soon as possible. He understands that people want to “enjoy the summer without political misery in their heads,” said the minister. Nevertheless, one must already look to the winter.

Even banal-sounding limitations make a contribution: for example, just by setting the domestic heating system correctly, around 15 percent of energy consumption can be saved. Every saving, no matter how small, has to be extrapolated to 41 million households, says Habeck. He also sees plenty of savings potential in industry. In the last few months alone, gas consumption in the industry has been reduced by 8 percent.

“Gas is a scarce commodity from now on”

Both Habeck and the Federal Network Agency make no secret of the fact that all forecasts contain variables that are difficult to calculate. What happens when the winter gets particularly cold? The model is currently based on an average winter. Or what if the LNG terminals under construction cannot start operations as planned in January 2023? All of this is hard to predict. According to the Federal Network Agency, the decisive factor is how well Germany succeeds in reducing its own consumption without jeopardizing the security of supply in neighboring countries. In their forecasts, the experts assume that gas consumption can be reduced by at least 20 percent on average from July.

Habeck does not want to paint the situation completely black. It is good that the federal government has released 15 billion euros to buy gas for storage. The operators of the reserve coal-fired power plants would also prepare to put shut-down units back into operation. “They will provide the coal and make the power plants fit again for use in two weeks,” promises the minister. The industry is also “very willing” to accept the auction model, with which Habeck wants to create additional incentives to save gas. However, it is far from clear whether all this will be enough to avert the gas emergency. “It’s not a game,” says the minister. “From now on, gas is a scarce commodity in Germany.”

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