Germany trembles before winter. When it comes to the energy crisis, people poke around in a fog of government PR, misinformation and sheer ignorance. Here, energy experts and economists answer the most pressing questions.

The news from the energy front is confusing. I’m not a fan of war metaphors, but this is an invisible section of the front in this European war, which has to be called that because millions of citizens and hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs are fighting for their economic survival here. There will be – that much is certain – deprivation and there will be sacrifices.

This energy front, to which we have been thrown like cannon fodder, needs to be cleared up first of all. It’s about clearing the fog of government PR, misinformation and sheer ignorance to navigate this murky terrain. That’s why a pioneering team of energy experts and economists assembled to answer the most pressing questions. Here the result:

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The German gas storage facilities are currently more than 95 percent full. According to the Federal Network Agency, the country’s largest storage facility in Rehden is more than 85 percent full. The good news is that the storage levels exceed the legal requirements for this winter.

The bad news follows immediately: Even fully-filled gas storage facilities will not be able to cover Germany’s gas needs in winter. The storage capacity is 23 billion cubic meters. That is only enough to supply Germany with gas for two to three months.

This means that the government’s reference to the high gas storage levels is correct, but not reassuring. This winter’s battle cannot be fought with this ammo alone.

A real blackout, i.e. the uncontrolled and large-scale failure of the power grid, can occur, even if this worst-case scenario must be described as unlikely. The last time there was one was in Münsterland in 2005, when the high-voltage lines buckled there due to large amounts of snow.

There has never been a blackout due to a lack of electricity in Germany. In order to provoke a blackout, huge amounts of electricity would have to be lost in one fell swoop.

Controlled shutdowns are more likely. The network operators have direct access to large consumers such as cold stores and can take them off the network for a few hours if necessary. In extreme cases, individual districts or regions could have no electricity for a few hours: a blackout light.

This is also symbolic politics: Over the three and a half months that the three nuclear power plants are now supposed to run longer, they will feed around 5.2 terawatt hours of electricity into the grid. This corresponds to less than one percent of the German annual gross electricity generation of 580 terawatt hours.

One of the reasons: the additional running time is short and the old fuel elements are past their prime. The nuclear power plants can no longer run at full load without new fuel elements.

How much domestic energy does Germany have if all blockages were removed and concerns pushed aside?

If the three remaining German nuclear power plants were equipped with new fuel elements and allowed to continue running, they could supply around 30 terawatt hours of electricity in the coming year. About six percent of German electricity production.

Plus: shale gas is stored in the German soil in the order of 227 billion cubic meters, slightly more than twice the current German annual requirement of 90 billion cubic meters. Of this, 15 to 30 percent are technically eligible, i.e. a maximum of 68 billion cubic meters. Substantial amounts of fracked gas could be produced in four to six years.

There is also an untapped gas reservoir under the Wadden Sea National Park in front of Borkum. It holds around 60 billion cubic meters of gas and could supply two billion cubic meters of gas annually from 2024.

The gas price (TTF gas) is currently more than 50 percent above the value of January 2022, at times there was an increase of 315 percent. does he stay that high

The extremely high increase in gas prices in the summer was primarily a panic reaction, says gas expert Andreas Schröder from the market research company ICIS. Currently, one would observe “a bit of a normalization”. Nevertheless, the price remains well above past values.

Experts expect prices to rise again as states’ accumulated stocks will soon be exhausted. Steffen Suttner, Managing Director Energy at Check24, says:

“When the energy suppliers procured before the crisis have been used up, they will have to buy on the exchange at the current record prices.”

Is there a plan for gas rationing in Germany and if so, how is this democratically legitimized?

When things get tight, it’s up to the Federal Network Agency, which can allocate the available gas to customers. In the energy market, Germany would switch from a market to a planned economy. For this, according to the Energy Security Act passed by the Bundestag, the federal government must proclaim the highest level of the gas emergency plan. The Federal Network Agency is thus authorized as a so-called federal load distributor.

Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.

Are the 200 billion euros in the gas price brake enough to keep energy costs manageable for people on low incomes in winter?

If the proposals of the Gas Price Commission are adopted, then 80 percent of private gas consumption will be set at a maximum of 12 cents per kilowatt hour. The remaining 20 percent must be paid at market price. The pre-crisis price was around 7 cents per kilowatt hour. It is therefore almost certain that the gas bill will at least double.

This in turn places an enormous burden on households with a low household income, because in future they will have to spend around 20 percent of their disposable income on electricity, heating and hot water. Together with the inflation of food prices – 18.7 percent for food – this leads to noticeable cuts in the already modest prosperity.

There are many austerity appeals from politicians. But is there somewhere to read whether they are bearing fruit and whether there will be collective energy saving successes in Germany?

You can do that – with millimeter precision. The Federal Network Agency publishes gas consumption in GWh/day as a weekly average every Thursday. The consumption can even be separated according to industrial or household and commercial customers.

Germany would have to use about 20 percent less gas to get through the winter relaxed, says the head of the Federal Network Agency, Klaus Müller. He is not satisfied with the savings behavior of the Germans:

“The gas consumption of households and businesses in the last week was well above the average consumption of previous years. This week’s numbers are very sobering. Without significant savings, also in the private sector, it will be difficult to avoid a gas shortage in winter.”

Conclusion: Germany is not entirely unprepared. But a lot depends on how cold or how mild this winter will be. The battle is not over yet.

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