Robert Habeck, Germany’s economics minister in his last life, pre-ministerial, has written a children’s book in which a girl named Emily may return to experience “how exciting a blackout at night can be” to haunt him.
These days, Habeck has been given the daunting task of ensuring that the lights are never truly turned off in Europe’s largest economy. And even if the Germans hoard candles and camping stoves, just as they did not so long ago with toilet paper and pasta, they consider the prospect of home blackouts and a cold house frightening rather than exciting. Reports of people cutting trees illegally for fuel brought back memories of post-World War II when Berlin’s Tiergarten park was stripped while the Germans tried to keep warm.
But the blackout is not unrealistic since Moscow shut down the Nord Stream 1 pipeline more than a week ago. Habeck was in danger of showing more than a small victory when he told the Bundestag on Thursday, “We have now been independent of Russian gas for a week.” It wasn’t Germany’s doing, but Putin’s, that he diminished Moscow’s influence over Europe via energy supplies.
While cutting off the road may have helped ease the conscience of many Germans who felt that every time they took a bath they supported Russia’s war, the responsibility now rests with Habeck more than any other minister, even Chancellor Olaf Schulz. . He must also try to keep the economy running amid bleak predictions that due to rising energy costs and rising inflation, the country will slip into recession next year.
Bakers in northern Germany on Thursday turned off their lights in protest at the way they have been excluded from the government’s impractical chime. Energiekostendämpfungsprogramm, to provide assistance with bills for energy-intensive industries, from glass to wallpaper manufacturers. Today’s lights, tomorrow’s ovens? The logo was posted on the door of a bakery in Hamburg’s upscale Blankenese district. “Bread can become a luxury that only the rich can afford,” the owner said, desperately trying to realize her gas provider had canceled her contract and was facing a monthly gas bill that had risen from €3,800 (£3,300) to €8,000.
Just a few months ago many people were regularly looking at coronavirus numbers. These days is Gasspeicher-Füllstand – Gas storage filling level – which attracts frantic attention. On Friday, 47 underground facilities across the country were 87% full, thanks to imports from other countries, namely Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands. It sounds high but it’s only part of the picture. When utilities are full, facilities hold only 28% of the total amount of gas that Germany uses on average in a year. The goal is to have 95% of capacity by November 1, but severe winters or any technical mishaps could cause stores to empty before winter hits. And there’s also the upcoming winter to think about, when stores will likely be empty with no Russian gas in sight.
The industry has already reduced its use by more than a fifth (but with the consequences – ammonia production has fallen by about 70%) and is currently “saving” about 300 GWh per day. Considering gas usage can reach 5,000 GWh on cold winter days, that’s just a drop in the ocean.
Energy experts say that despite Schulz’s insistence that Germany will have enough energy to withstand the winter, it is too early to be optimistic. Already in September it was colder than usual, consumption was higher than expected.
Families are being urged to reduce their consumption by about 20%, but the expected higher bills for households that might encourage savings have in many cases not yet reached the doormat. Careful not to sound alarming, the government has done little so far to encourage local savings and the focus has instead been on lowering swimming pool temperatures or turning off the lights at the Brandenburg Gate. Habeck has often noted that he kept showers to a minimum and installed a water-saving shower head, but he also cautioned against appearing arrogant.
The hope lies in liquid gas that Germany expects to obtain via two state-chartered floating terminals in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel, due to come on stream early in the year, and a third by a private consortium in Lubmen. But energy market experts warn that demand for LNG could be fierce in winter, especially from Asia.
A mild winter could have a significant impact, but pressure is now mounting on the coalition government from within its ranks – the pro-business Liberal Democratic Party – and opposition conservatives, to reverse Angela Merkel’s 2011 commitment made in response to the Fukushima disaster to withdraw from nuclear power. .
Habeck, a prominent member of the Green Party whose founders have been outspoken against nuclear power, tried to depoliticize the decision on whether to keep three plants remaining after the scheduled shutdown in December, with a stress test involving the national grid operators concluded that the risk of outages could not be ruled out. electric, so two of the three plants should be put on emergency standby. The decision sparked ridicule and contempt: Green supporters worry that this may signal a slow return to nuclear power, and add to that. schlamasselAnd the A German term for chaos, one station operator described the plans as “technically unviable”. Some said the operator is simply angry at the financial loss it means to be in “standby” mode rather than fully operating for his company.
But in immediate terms, Germany now faces no less than an even greater weight – its worry about atomic energy or blackouts.