Top politicians are not stingy with suggestions for saving energy. But relying solely on people’s understanding and their good will is far too risky. Austerity appeals are good – price pressure is better.
Everyone is talking about saving – with the exception of the Chancellor. “Nope” answered Olaf Scholz (SPD) when he was recently asked whether he also had savings tips like his Economics Minister Robert Habeck. The Green recommends, among other things, shorter showers and, according to his own statements, already practices it.
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Regardless of the chancellor’s brash no, his colleagues in the cabinet are not stingy with suggestions for saving energy. Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) recommends that drivers slow down. His party friend, Minister of State Claudia Roth, is in talks with the culture industry about how museums and theaters can get by with less electricity and gas.
Many media explain to their readers, viewers and listeners what you can do to keep your own gas bill from rising too much. Consumer advocates are also active. Her advice: don’t leave the lights on in every room, switch off stand-by mode, and don’t set refrigerators and freezers colder than necessary. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier himself is setting a good example: His official residence in Berlin, Schloss Bellevue, is generally no longer illuminated at night.
All of these admonitions and appeals are well intentioned and quite appropriate. But somehow they seem helpless. Most people will only really save on energy consumption when they feel it on their own wallet. Companies that pay their bills monthly are already doing a lot to reduce their own energy consumption.
Private consumers will only notice that gas prices have tripled when their energy suppliers adjust their quarterly or monthly installments. Because there is a risk that the Ministry of Economics will allow gas suppliers to pass on their significantly increased purchase costs to consumers from September onwards – regardless of the fixed prices previously agreed.
Calls for renunciation are certainly not wrong. Many citizens understand that the “gas war” declared by Putin is not only a drain on their household budgets. You can also see what it could mean for the whole country if some companies had to cut back or even stop production in winter. However, the insight and caution of many are not enough to motivate a population of 82 million to save energy. The high proportion of vaccination and mask refusers in the corona pandemic should have made it clear to politicians that collective reason cannot be achieved with good words alone.
Against this background, the promises made by politicians to keep the additional burdens on private households caused by rising energy costs within narrow limits tend to be counterproductive. Anyone who does not have to reckon with significant additional loads will hardly reduce their heating costs significantly when looking at the whole. The recipients of basic security (Hartz IV) can look forward to the winter in relation to the heating costs, as long as they heat with gas, relaxed anyway. The Social Security Code regulates that “needs for accommodation and heating are (are) recognized in the amount of the actual expenses, insofar as these are reasonable.”
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Politicians who do not rely solely on “the good in people” should therefore link their calls for waivers with reference to the impending additional costs. So it would make sense for the state to guarantee households the basic supply of gas at prices before the Ukraine war. In 2021, a kilowatt hour still cost 6.5 cents; in new contracts, on the other hand, 20 cents are already required.
It would also be conceivable that this subsidized price would only be paid for the quantity that is 20 percent below last year’s consumption. Turning the heating up all the time would become an expensive pleasure. Since German apartments are usually overheated, hardly anyone would have to freeze even with this pressure to save.
Putin is waging a gas war against us. That’s no reason to panic. It goes without saying that people with low and middle incomes must be helped in this situation. However, a price cap for gas, as demanded by politicians from the left-green camp, would be completely the wrong way.
When it comes to saving energy, relying solely on people’s understanding and their goodwill is far too risky. The price should and must continue to be an important instrument to give citizens and entrepreneurs clear signals to save. In other words: austerity appeals are good – price pressure is better.