Spectre of Blackouts Loom as Cold Weather Threatens German Energy Savings Plan

13 December 2022, Saxony, Leipzig: An air-source heat pump hangs on a house wall in snow and ice in a newly developing single-family housing area. During the night, temperatures in Leipzig dropped to minus 9 degrees under clear skies. Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa (Photo by Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images

The spectre of future energy blackouts is once again looming in Germany, with the country’s plan to cut consumption falling significantly short amid cold winter weather.

A cold snap that has hit the north of Europe is now seriously threatening Germany’s energy security, with the country now reportedly falling far short of hitting gas savings targets of 20 per cent needed to avoid rolling blackouts.

While many officials across the country had warned that there is a very real threat that Germany could be facing serious energy shortages over the next few months, bigwigs close to the government have repeatedly dismissed these concerns, expressing confidence that the country’s plans to cut energy usage will be enough to see it through the winter.

However, such confidence now appears to have been shaken significantly by recent events, with public-service broadcaster ZDF reporting that Klaus Müller, the head of Germany’s Federal Network Agency energy watchdog, has once again publicly begged the public to use less gas.

While attempting to reassure Germans that the country remains “very, very far away from a gas shortage”, Müller admitted that the country was now burning far more gas than initially expected for this time of year, revealing that the country had actually managed to chew through one percent of its entire gas reserve on Monday alone.

“That should now remain an outlier,” he said, arguing that high consumption should not be allowed to continue in January and February.

“Therefore, despite the cold, I would like to ask you to be careful with your gas consumption,” the Federal Network Agency president told the public, saying that they should be able to “endure” the cold weather in order to allow Germany to hit its targets.

While Müller has attempted to argue that, despite the current significant shortcomings in Germany’s efforts to save gas, he remains confident that power cuts and blackouts remain extremely unlikely.

Such a message has been somewhat undercut by the official’s recent actions however, with his warning on Wednesday representing the second time in as many days Müller has begged the public to use less gas, having issued a similar message on Tuesday.

This enthusiasm to ask the public to reduce their gas usage becomes understandable when considering previous warnings from experts that, should Germany be unable to reduce its overall gas usage by 20 per cent over the previous year, the prospect of rationing becoming necessary grows significantly.

To make matters worse, such warnings were issued at a time when Europe was experiencing unseasonably warm weather, a factor that reduced the demand for energy across the continent as people needed less to heat their homes, a trend which may now have flipped.

According to Der Spiegel, despite the weather in Germany having been rather mild over the autumn, the country could now be looking at one of its coldest Decembers in ten years, a factor that will almost certainly drive gas demand to levels higher than initially expected.

Even leaving fears for this year behind however, should Germany end up reducing its gas reserves to nothing for the purposes of scraping through the next few months, there remains no guarantees that it will be able to refill them in time for next winter.

According to a report from the International Energy Agency earlier this week, the EU as a whole has greatly benefitted from reduced gas demand from China due to its hardline COVID lockdown, which has led to greater availability of liquified natural gas worldwide.

With China looking to be finally emerging from such lockdowns though, it now seems highly unlikely that such factors will be in place next year, meaning that the entire bloc will likely experience a gap in its supply to the tune of tens of billions of cubic meters.

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