Germans brace for colder apartments and darken streets this winter
As another heat wave sweeps across Europe, Germany braces for a long, cold winter as an energy crisis caused in part by Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already cut natural gas deliveries to the country by 80% through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and threatened to completely cut off gas supplies to Germany. Nearly half of all households in Germany use natural gas as their primary heating medium, and Russia until recently accounted for 55% of the country’s gas imports. Replacing dwindling supplies from Russia with gas from elsewhere in a matter of months is almost impossible, given the lack of infrastructure such as pipelines or LNG terminals.
That leaves Germans worried about frost in the winter months: already some hardware stores are reporting that they sell electric heaters. “I have the feeling that we are sleepwalking towards a disaster,” said Lamia Messari-Becker, professor of building technology and building physics at the University of Siegen in western Germany.
The German government has asked citizens, municipalities and industrial consumers to save energy, and efforts are visible across the country.
Berlin refused the night lighting of the residence of the president, the castle of Bellevue, and the building of the Reichstag, seat of the parliament of the country. Officials discuss whether to darken Christmas markets in winter and debate how to keep public buildings like libraries open and warm. The Berlin Senate wants to reduce its energy consumption by at least 10%, but has decided not to limit neon signs in public spaces.
Hannover, a city of 530,000 that is home to the headquarters of Germany’s largest company, Volkswagen, has lowered the water temperature in heated public swimming pools and turned off hot water to all buildings in the city in a bid to reduce energy consumption by 15%. Some streets are no longer lit at night and public fountains have stopped working.
So far, the public has largely accepted these changes. Axel von der Ohe, Hanover’s first city councilor, told public radio Deutschlandfunk that the measures are necessary and that most people understand the measures “because the situation is serious, and that is why they are showing solidarity and accept it”.
Even the smallest municipalities have started reducing their energy consumption. The town of 9,000 inhabitants of Pritzwalk, in the rural east of the country, has fitted its streetlights with LED technology. But small towns don’t have much wiggle room, Mayor Ronald Thiel said. “There is little potential for savings in the energy sector in small municipalities like Pritzwalk in the case of mandatory tasks, such as schools,” he said. “It would be more possible to save on voluntary missions, such as cultural equipment. However, each contribution counts.”
Unlike countries like Spain, Germany has not made energy saving measures binding. Behavioral appeals alone will not be enough, warned Karen Pittel, director of the ifo Center for Energy, Climate and Resources and professor of economics at the University of Munich. “In some areas, such as public buildings, offices, shops or even outdoor lighting, I can very well imagine such requirements,” she said, although for private homes, “incentives for energy savings would probably work better”.
Vonovia, Germany’s largest real estate group, has hundreds of thousands of apartments across the country and plans to gradually reduce the heating of its properties at night to reduce its energy consumption by 8%.
In Germany, natural gas is mainly used for industrial purposes (37% of the total), followed by domestic heating (31%). The high prices and the potential shortage pose a serious threat to the German economy, which is heavily dependent on the manufacturing industry. New estimates from the International Monetary Fund predict a lower than expected growth rate of 1.2% for 2022 and 0.8% for 2023, partly due to the energy crisis.
German industry is also trying to help achieve a European plan to reduce gas consumption by 15%. Volkswagen has its own plant at its Wolfsburg plant where it burns coal or gas, and says it will use coal for longer than expected. Switching to other energy sources is more difficult for the steel industry. Industry leader ThyssenKrupp is already anticipating a temporary drop in production.
Consumption reductions should be complemented by greater energy production, Messari-Becker said. “We can’t do it [preventing a gas shortage in winter] with savings alone. We also need to generate more [energy]. Every additional kilowatt-hour we produce creates security. Messari-Becker said she doesn’t see a near-term alternative to coal. Goals.
But some experts say concerted attempts to save energy change required attention to areas of the energy transition that have been neglected – such as greener ways of delivering heat, such as heat pumps.
This neglect “is hurting us now, because the number of experts who know about it is too small and the hidden potential is still poorly understood by potential users,” said Stefan Büttner, an economist and climate-neutral production expert at the University. from Stuttgart. . He said that while large companies have optimized their processes for efficiency, the same is not true for many small and medium-sized businesses. Here, Büttner said, there is pent-up demand.