Germany facing uphill battle to confront serious energy crisis
Expert warns that German industry must brace for energy rations, which would ultimately mean mass job losses
Germany is grappling with a serious energy crisis and has no quick solutions for it amid soaring energy prices as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck termed the current energy crisis in his country "serious" as Berlin is preparing new measures to react to a cut in Russian gas supplies by reviving coal plants and providing financing to secure gas for the winter.
"Security of supply is currently guaranteed, but the situation is serious," the minister told German television network ZDF.
Habeck warned that supplies could be "really tight" in the winter without full reserves.
He stressed that reviving coal is "bitter" but added that "it's simply necessary for this situation to reduce gas consumption."
"We must and we will do everything we can to store as much gas as possible in the summer and fall," Habeck added.
Energy expert warns of gas rationing plans
A leading Berlin-based energy expert has expressed serious doubts as to whether Germany will have enough gas for the coming winter.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin seems willing to cut off the gas, and he's actually cut off now 60% of the gas coming in (the) Nord Stream I (pipeline). So if that gas is totally cut off, (or) even if it continues at this level of 60%, there's a serious question as to whether there will be enough gas this winter, Dr. Thomas W. O'Donnell told Anadolu Agency.
"They really don't have a way to replace the natural gas quickly, Germany or Europe in general," added the American energy analyst, who is lecturing at Berlin's Free University.
O'Donnell pointed out that the German government may have no choice but to draw up energy rationing plans.
"The main use of natural gas in Germany is not so much for producing electricity. That was only about 15%. The main use is for industry and heating homes. And they're going to have to make a choice, and it will obviously be to shut off the industry, which is jobs," he said.
O' Donnell's grim assessment of the country's state of energy was partially echoed by Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute of Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin.
"It has to be said clearly: We are in the middle of an energy crisis, all of Europe. We are still very dependent on Russian gas," Kemfert told the Swiss Radio and Television (SFR) network.
"In the last few weeks, the countries have been able to prepare to obtain gas from other countries. The stores are half full. But now the point is that you have to fill up the storage tanks more for the winter and do more to save energy. So the situation is actually very serious," she added.
Germany reduces energy dependency on Russia
That notwithstanding, Germany seems to have lowered its energy dependency on Russia since the start of its war in Ukraine on Feb. 24.
According to the German Economy Ministry, there has been major progress in diversification in recent weeks, especially in oil and coal.
Dependence on Russian oil has dropped from around 35% last year to 12% most recently, and the import share of Russian gas from 55% to around 35%. In the case of coal, this rate has fallen from 50% to around 8% since the start of the year.
The European Union recently issued an import embargo on Russian coal with a transitional period.
"All of these steps that we are taking require an enormous joint effort by all those involved, and they also mean costs that both the economy and consumers feel," said Habeck.
"But they are necessary if we no longer want to be blackmailed by Russia."
Heated political debate over extension of nuclear power
While the German government is banking on renewable energies to become independent of Russia and fossil fuels, some politicians are now discussing an extension of nuclear power.
Only three nuclear power plants are currently in operation in Germany, but they are scheduled to be taken off the grid by Dec. 31 this year at the latest.
Bavaria's Minister-President Markus Soder is supporting a temporary extension of nuclear power.
The remaining nuclear power plants should therefore run "at least until the beginning of 2024," Soder told Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper.
Meanwhile, Habeck and Environment Minister Steffi Lemke have both expressed their opposition to prolonging the life of the three plants.
For his part, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has expressed skepticism about considerations of extending the service life of the nuclear power plants still in use in Germany beyond the end of the year.
He has stressed the need for a faster expansion of renewable energies amid reduced gas supplies from Russia.
"This is the year of the decision so that we can ensure that Germany no longer needs fossil-type energy imports in the shortest possible time," said Scholz.
Germany will no longer purchase coal from Russia effective in the fall and no more oil from the end of 2022.
Reacting to the issue, O'Donnell pointed out that depending only on renewable energies would not solve the country's problems.
"You can have 40% or maybe 50% renewables if you're a high-tech rich country, but only if you have something stable behind it, and the only non-carbon thing behind it that could work is nuclear. And that's a crisis for Germany because, at present, they won't even think about it," he said.
While the revival of nuclear power is not on the agenda yet, Germany has decided to boost production at its coal power plants after Russian energy giant Gazprom slashed deliveries to Germany via the Nord Stream I gas pipeline.
The action, which Gazprom labeled a technical issue, has been lambasted by the German government as being a "political" move.
Germany has been adamant about its plans to still close its coal power plants by 2030 despite reverting to fossil fuels in the wake of the Russian-provoked energy crisis.