Germany wants to become independent of Russian natural gas as quickly as possible. Alternative delivery routes could start next year at the earliest. But where does the natural gas come from? And how independent do we actually become?
Germany can no longer rely on contractual deliveries from Russia, it needs alternative sources of electricity and natural gas. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and most recently Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) have been traveling the world for months to find new suppliers and conclude agreements. But not everyone who would like to supply Germany can do so. Here is the current status.
Natural gas from Russia is delivered in gaseous form via pipelines thousands of kilometers long directly from the gas fields. It comes either through the Baltic Sea (Nord Stream 1) or overland through Poland (Yamal Pipeline).
There are hardly any such pipelines in other possible supplier countries. Only three more pipelines connect us through the North Sea with Norway, and one with the Dutch gas field in Groningen. Any other country that wants to supply us with gas will have to do it in a different way. “Liquified Natural Gas” (LNG), i.e. liquefied natural gas, is the method of choice. To do this, natural gas has to be cooled to around 164 degrees below zero and can be shipped across the oceans in special tankers. The advantage of this: LNG has only one six hundredth the volume of natural gas.
The disadvantage: In order to feed it into the German grid, it has to be converted back into gas. This requires special port facilities, called LNG terminals. Germany doesn’t have anything like that yet because we didn’t need it yet. However, we can import LNG via terminals in the Netherlands and Belgium, but only in limited quantities.
That should change from 2023. Two LNG terminals are currently being built in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel on the North Sea coast. However, they will not be fully operational until 2025 or 2026. To avoid the waiting time, Germany is converting five LNG tankers into floating terminals. They will be built in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel on the North Sea, Stade on the Elbe and Lubmin on the Baltic Sea. They could come online between January and December 2023 and together convert almost 20 billion cubic meters per year. That would be almost half the capacity of Nord Stream 1.
After the start of the Ukraine war, Norway expanded its deliveries to Germany. From January to April, 15 billion cubic meters were delivered, almost twice as much as in the previous year. This was possible because Norway has extended the production licenses for three gas fields in the North Sea, so that more natural gas is produced there. Extrapolated for the whole year, Norway would supply 60 billion cubic meters. That would be more than Russia could technically blast through Nord Stream 1. For Norway, however, this is also the upper limit; more deliveries are technically not possible due to the three pipelines to Germany.
The Netherlands operates the Groningen gas field just a few kilometers from the German border. The flow rates here could theoretically be increased. But the grant is controversial. Local residents have successfully protested because the underground work has repeatedly led to minor earthquakes in recent years. The gas field was supposed to be closed this fall. The Dutch government has now extended operations by a year because of the energy crisis. The Netherlands are now Germany’s second most important natural gas supplier after Norway.
During the energy crisis, the USA became the world’s largest exporter of liquid gas. The country owns the deposits and terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. Nine new terminals were commissioned this year alone. This year, an additional 15 billion cubic meters of natural gas in liquid form are to be delivered to the EU. How much of it ends up in Germany is unclear. In the long term, the USA even wants to supply an additional 50 billion cubic meters per year. That would replace a third of Russian imports across the Union.
Once the technical requirements have been met, supplier countries are still needed. In May, Habeck signed an agreement with Qatar to a great deal of attention. In the short term, the Qataris wanted to supply LNG from a facility in the United States. From 2026, they will increase production at their huge North Dome gas field. Germany should also benefit from this with higher deliveries. So far, however, no German importer has signed a contract with Qatar. It is therefore uncertain whether and when natural gas will be delivered from the Middle East.
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Most recently, Habeck and Scholz were in Canada to arrange short-term LNG deliveries. They came back unsuccessfully. It’s not that the Canadians aren’t willing to ship the liquefied gas to Germany, but an LNG terminal would first have to be built on Canada’s east coast. So far none exists there.
When looking for new partners, Habeck and the German importers approached numerous other countries. For example, there are talks with Azerbaijan, Australia, Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria.
Azerbaijan has already agreed to supply 20 instead of 8 billion cubic meters of gas per year. But that won’t be possible until 2027, because a new pipeline has to be built through Turkey. The gas would also go to the EU and only part to Germany.
Nigeria, Senegal, Angola and Australia can only supply gas in liquid form and are therefore dependent on the completion of the North Sea terminals. The same applies to deliveries from the eastern Mediterranean, where Algeria, Egypt, Israel and Greece produce gas.
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