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Life began for Germany after Gazprom. As it will be? – DW – 07.09.2022

The German authorities decided not to turn off two nuclear power plants at the end of the year, agreed with France to exchange electricity for gas and warned the population that this winter, restrictions on the supply of blue fuel, contrary to the current rules, could also affect households. So in Germany on Monday, September 5, they reacted to the fact that Russia did not resume supplies via the Nord Stream pipeline over the weekend.

In fact, Germany, as the largest foreign buyer of Russian gas in the past, on September 5, 2022, drew a line under a half-century era.

The country’s leadership realized that life began after Gazprom.

Berlin no longer counts on Nord Stream

German Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister Robert Habeck said that the resumption of the Nord Stream “is not among the scenarios from which I proceed.” He said practically the same thing a week ago, when Gazprom shut off the pipeline in the Baltic for an alleged three-day repair. So for Berlin, the stoppage (under the far-fetched pretext of faulty turbines) of the main and, in fact, the only operating route for supplying Germany with Russian gas, did not come as a surprise.

06/10/2022.  German Economy Minister Robert Habeck launches nationwide campaign to save energy
Robert Habek announced the start of a nationwide energy saving campaign on June 10 Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP

It can even be assumed that the same Robert Habek is happy at heart with this development of events. After all, as the Minister of Economy of Germany, this popular politician of the Green Party could not afford to advocate for the introduction of a gas embargo by the European Union against Russia that attacked Ukraine – the protests from industries and large German companies that still rely on Russian energy would be too great (and thereby more and more dragging the FRG into dependence on the Russian Federation).

But now Russia itself declared a partial gas embargo for itself, cutting off supplies to Germany, which used to buy more than a quarter of all Gazprom’s exports to far abroad countries. Thus, the Kremlin deprived itself of the opportunity to further blackmail the Germans by threatening to turn off the gas (it has already been turned off), created a very serious economic and socio-political problem for the German government, but at the same time untied its hands.

Now Berlin has every reason to take a variety of anti-crisis measures, even extremely unpopular in various sections of German society. These measures were described and calculated by several groups of scientists who, since the spring, have been saying that Germany can quite well – under certain conditions – completely do without Russian gas this winter.

Germany returns coal-fired power plants from the reserve

One of these conditions is the large-scale resumption of electricity production at power plants that have been placed on standby or even already disconnected for environmental reasons. on stone and, possibly, on brown coal, which is even more harmful to the climate. Berlin created the legal prerequisites for this on July 14th.

On August 29, 2022, one of the most powerful coal-fired power plants in Germany, Heyden 4, resumed operation
On August 29, one of the most powerful coal-fired power plants in Germany, Heyden 4, temporarily resumed operation.Photo: Jochen Tack/IMAGO

However, the practical implementation of this temporary measure, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of April 2023 after the end of the heating season, has been delayed due to organizational and logistical problems. German thermal power plants, for example, are required to have a 30-day supply of coal before connecting to the grid. So in August only the first two powerful coal-fired power plants started working again.

But in the coming weeks, their number will increase, so that the German power industry will meet the coming winter with significant additional generating capacity at coal-fired thermal power plants. This should reduce the use of gas-fired power plants to a minimum. Although, by the end of August, the share of gas in electricity generation had already fallen from about 15% in previous years to 9.8%.

“Greens” break the taboo: nuclear power plants will temporarily continue to work

As another condition for overcoming dependence on Russian gas, some scientists called the extension of the life of nuclear power plants. In Germany, there are three remaining operating power units of nuclear power plants, which, according to the decision made in Germany in 2011 to abandon nuclear energy, were planned to be decommissioned by December 31, 2022. However, in recent weeks there has been a growing discussion about whether it is acceptable to abandon any available operational generating capacity in the face of an acute energy crisis.

It was believed that the Green Party, which is part of the ruling coalition in Germany, which had been fighting against nuclear energy for decades, would never, for ideological reasons, agree to at least somehow revise the legislatively fixed decision on the complete cessation of the use of “peaceful atom”.

Nuclear power plant Isar 2 in Bavaria
The shutdown of the Isar 2 nuclear power plant in Bavaria is planned to be postponed for at least four monthsPhoto: Peter Kneffel/picture alliance

However, on September 5, none other than a prominent representative of this party, Robert Habek, based on the results of a stress test carried out on his behalf in the electric power industry, proposed to leave two of the three power units in reserve until April 2023, and precisely those that are on industrial south of Germany. There is now a discussion about this proposal, some criticizing it as incoherent and half-hearted, asking questions: why two and not three, why only in reserve and not in round-the-clock operation, why only until April, and not longer?

However, it is quite possible that Habek’s proposal is intended only as a trial balloon – to test the reaction of the public and parts of his own party. In any case, the Minister of Economics has already broken a taboo that is downright sacramental for many Germans by proposing to correct something that until recently seemed absolutely unshakable. Therefore, now we can firmly proceed from the fact that, in one form or another, the existing German nuclear power plants will remain in operation this winter.

RES could give Germany half of all electricity

So, Germany will be provided with electricity for at least the next seven-odd months by additional coal-fired power plants and continuing operation of nuclear power plants, as well as, we recall and emphasize this, renewable energy sources (RES). Wind and solar, as well as biomass and hydropower, have more than once accounted for half of Germany’s electricity production in recent years, under favorable weather conditions. According to the data of the Federal Statistical Office of Germany (Destatis) published on September 7, in the first half of 2022, the share of renewable energy sources in the national electricity production was 48.5%.

The wind farm in Emden (Germany) on the coast of the North Sea operates at full capacity during a storm
The wind farm in Emden on the North Sea runs at full capacity during a stormPhoto: Rolf Poetsch/picture alliance

So if in the coming months strong winds blow on the territory of Germany, especially from the Atlantic, which is quite likely in the autumn-winter period, this will also greatly help to replace and save gas in the electric power industry. And at the same time get those surplus electricity that will be needed for export to France. After all, she is experiencing serious problems with electricity this year, since more than half of the 56 French nuclear power plants had to be turned off due to various technical malfunctions. In addition to cracks and corrosion, this summer’s unusual heat and subsequent drought have also become a problem, causing shallowing and rising temperatures in rivers that are normally used to cool reactors.

Actually, it was about mutual energy support that was discussed on September 5 during a video conference between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron. Both leaders made political decisions: for its electricity, Germany will receive gas from French gas storage facilities and from LNG terminals. And already on September 6, a message came from Paris that the reopening of the gas pipeline between the two countries that had not been working for a long time was beginning.

Households and businesses will have to save

The Germans will need gas, in particular, to heat their homes. True, the widespread idea that all of Germany is heated by gas is far from reality: in fact, it is required by about half of households. The other half uses oil products (fuel oil, diesel), various electrical systems (primarily heat pumps), wood pellets.

According to the rules in force in Germany, in the event of a shortage of gas, its supply is reduced or stopped to industrial enterprises, but households, hospitals, police, firefighters are protected from shutdowns. However, in the new energy situation, the Federal Grid Agency (Bundesnetzagentur, BNetzA) on September 5, in turn, also broke the taboo and announced that it does not give any guarantees to the so-called protected recipients and, if necessary, will be able to order them to reduce consumption as well.

However, while the head of the agency Klaus Muller (Klaus Müller) again and again urges the people of Germany in the coming winter to use any energy carefully and especially save gas used for heating homes and water. At the same time, a very strong incentive to follow his calls is the sharply increased prices for electricity, and especially for blue fuel.

Extremely high prices force industrial enterprises to save gas as well. Contrary to popular belief, German industry, even chemical industry, needs it, not so much as a raw material, but mainly as a fuel for factory power plants and for generating steam, which is necessary for numerous production processes.

Therefore, those enterprises that have the technical capabilities to replace gas with oil products or coal turned out to be in a favorable situation. Others have to reduce production and partially even refuse to produce certain products. In any case, already in July, BNetzA reported, the German industry reduced gas consumption by 21% compared to the 2018-2021 average.

Who instead of Russia will supply gas to Germany

Nevertheless, many enterprises and households cannot do without gas. But this is not required of them. Before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, Germany was approximately 50% dependent on gas from Russia, but it still received the other half from other countries. And these deliveries are now regularly continuing – and will continue.

infographics

First of all, we are talking about the offshore fields of Norway, which has increased to the maximum possible volumes of gas supplies to Germany and the EU through five underwater pipelines. In addition, gas comes from offshore and onshore fields in the Netherlands, and this Germany’s neighbor, quite possibly, will also increase production.

At the same time, liquefied gas is being imported from all over the world, which for the time being will have to be regasified at LNG terminals in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. But already in winter, Germany will have its own infrastructure in the form of one, two or even three regasification vessels. And by the end of next year number of German LNG terminals to grow to six.

Add to this the extremely vast German underground gas storage facilities, which are already almost 87% full, and the shutdown of Nord Stream did not stop the process of their forced injection. Statistically, Germany’s UGS facilities are sufficient to fully meet all the country’s gas needs for about two winter months with normal temperatures. However, let us clarify: this is if not a single cubic meter is supplied through pipelines and from LNG terminals all this time. But this will not happen, so the reserves in gas storage facilities are a serious safety net in case of increased demand at especially low temperatures.

If we add up all these factors – additional generating capacity in the electric power industry, flows of Norwegian, Dutch and liquefied gas, reserves in underground gas storage facilities and enhanced measures to save energy by households and industry – then Germany, according to experts, has a good chance to do without Russian gas and without suffering painful social and economic losses. Nobody says that life after Gazprom will be easy, especially in the first winter. It’s just that such a life, if you exert all your strength, is in principle already possible now.

See also:

“Nord Stream” did not work, the euro collapsed

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