Germany turns to coal power to make up for reduced gas supply
After Russian-owned energy company Gazprom announced that it would cut its supply of gas to Germany, Robert Habeck, Germany’s Vice-Chancellor and Economic Affairs Minister, said the country will to coal power to fill up its fuel reserves.
Germany set to limit gas usage
Last week, Gazprom announced that it would be further reducing the supply of gas to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. In fact, Gazprom made the announcement twice in less than a week, forst stating that the volume of gas would be cut from 167 million cubic metres a day to 100 cubic metres. Then, just a day later, the company announced supply would be cut even further, down to just 67 million cubic metres a day.
In response, German Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck announced on Sunday that the federal republic will be looking to curb its use of gas for the production of electricity, meaning that coal power will increasingly be used instead. "To reduce gas consumption, less gas must be used to generate electricity. Coal-fired power plants will have to be used more instead," Habeck’s ministry said.
Using coal power goes against the goals of Germany’s ruling coalition. The coalition had previously stated that it aimed to completely remove coal power from its energy production by 2030. "That's bitter, but it's simply necessary in this situation to lower gas usage,'' Habeck said.
On Monday, the government reaffirmed its commitment to phase out coal: "The 2030 coal exit date is not in doubt at all," said Economics Ministry spokesperson Stephan Gabriel Haufe, stating that the decision to use the coal power plants as an emergency source in the light of energy uncertainty was limited to 2024.
Filling Germany’s energy storage facilities
Habeck stressed the importance of filling Germany’s gas storage facilities, which are currently only around 57 percent full, in the coming weeks and months: “Otherwise, it will be really tight in winter," he said. The government is planning a credit line of 15 billion euros with the KfW state bank to enable the buying of gas to help fill its storage facilities.
Habeck also proposed introducing a temperature cap on domestic heating and setting up a gas auction model, where industrial customers who reduce their energy consumption will receive financial compensation. Any gas that is saved under this scheme will be put into storage. German industrial associations have largely reacted positively to the scheme.
The FDP has also called for Germany to consider overturning its ban on unconventional fracking, which was introduced in 2017. While fracking is considered extremely harmful to the environment, Torsten Herbst, a member of the FDP’s federal executive committee, has argued that this is no longer relevant. "As scientific studies show, under modern security standards fracking causes no relevant environmental damage," he said.
Too little too late?
On Monday, former Health Minister Jens Spahn praised Habeck’s plans as a step in the right direction, but warned that it had come too little too late. "If we had started running more coal plants, fewer gas plants back in March, maybe the storage facilities would be 10 percent fuller by now," Spahn said.
Markus Jerger, the director of the German Association of Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses (BVMW) has hit out at Habeck’s gas auction scheme, saying it would be harder for smaller businesses to compete with larger businesses regarding how much gas they could afford to auction off.
Germany has also long been subject to criticism for its reliance on cheap Russian gas, something which has been seen as a threat to the security of Europe, particularly by the US.