In the economic war with Russia, the government is preparing us all for restrictions. However, many of these are illusions. After all, who should, for example, optimize their heating if there is a lack of fitters everywhere?
The plans just presented by the EU Commission for general energy savings by the member states have probably been obsolete since the weekend – the resistance of numerous EU countries to the Brussels plans makes the Commission’s rules unenforceable. Against this background, the discussion about the government plans in Germany is flaring up all the more.
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In view of the uncertain gas supply situation, Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck has announced further energy-saving measures – in addition to new priorities in power generation, the main focus should be on specifications that will also affect consumers in the coming winter. Just on Thursday, when natural gas from Russia began to flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline again and with summer temperatures above 30 degrees, the German public was supposed to be sworn to a frosty winter.
With forty percent of the possible utilization, the flow is just as sparse as before the regular ten-day maintenance of the gas pipeline. Allegedly, a certain turbine is missing, it is now said from Russia. The federal government considers the Russian statements to be diversionary maneuvers and wants to prepare for the worst case scenario: no more gas from Russia whenever the ruler in the Kremlin orders it.
Against this background, the new regulation on the filling level of gas storage facilities in Germany makes sense – it is to be increased in steps up to November from the current level of around 65 percent to 95 percent. Such a supply would usually be enough to get through the winter. However, the fact that Habeck is not certain that the target will be achieved is revealed by the further plans in terms of consumption.
So far, numerous municipalities have played along more or less voluntarily and are already reducing temperatures in public swimming pools, for example. Since this is also a nice cost brake in view of the high energy prices, many are happy to take part. In autumn and winter, public buildings should also be heated far more sparingly than usual.
Word has got around that consumers are facing high price increases. It will be the task of social policy to cushion this for less well-heeled households – however, the abrupt increases could already be passed on to customers in current contracts, for which the Habeck Ministry would have to implement the price adjustment clause in the Energy Security Act due to the unusual situation. After all, this can mitigate an even more significant price shock in the case of contract extensions and the cost statement of the previous billing period. And the state could already provide much more targeted support than if this were done on suspicion or according to the notorious watering can principle.
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The proposed mandatory check of the heating systems in the country is different – with many systems it should be possible to save energy with relatively small adjustments. However, where the plumbers who can still do such work in millions and millions of households before winter are suddenly supposed to come from should be clarified before this point is given the force of law. Minimum temperatures in rented apartments as well as in offices are of course not freely selectable in Germany. However, they should be able to be reduced – be it through exceptions in the usual rental contracts, where they are standard to protect against moisture and mold formation, be it in companies by collective agreement or legal requirements.
Not heating private pools is the final slide into small-small. In view of the current German electricity prices – almost world class, as we all know – owners of an outdoor pool in the garden will not think of having an outdoor steam bath all the time. The few who do are asked to pay a lot. The Economics Minister contradicts the fear of state heating controls in private households. “It was never meant that we introduce a kind of heat police,” he says when presenting his plans.
Critics from economics see above all that valuable time has passed unused in saving and in the search for solutions since the spring. On the one hand, the German-American economist Rüdiger Bachmann criticizes that consumers have not felt the rise in gas prices since the start of the Ukraine war, which would have helped as an incentive to save.
The search for a replacement for Russian deliveries, such as liquid gas by tanker, was also late. In fact, the Federal Ministry for the Environment quickly and categorically rejected even the idea of keeping the nuclear power plants in operation beyond December 31st. A new examination will now take place, but a possible positive decision must then be made very soon. Another three shut down Kren power plants could be reactivated.
Contrary to statements from the federal government that this will not help with the gas crisis, experts refer to the numerous gas-fired power plants that do nothing other than generate electricity. The argument that a faster expansion of renewables could have brought independence from gas probably does not stand up to reality testing. The economist Daniel Stelter even sees the public being deceived: “The fact that a significantly higher proportion of renewables require conventional power plants as a reserve because there is not enough storage capacity is ignored. The easiest way to achieve this is with gas-fired power plants. That is why the federal government planned to multiply the number of gas-fired power plants as a bridging technology in February, without knowing how long this bridge would have to support”.
Everyone is secretly hoping for something that cannot be planned, but would still be very helpful: a mild winter. We will know more about this in April 2023.
The contribution “Habeck’s heating-saving hammer in check: does it do anything at all?” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.