Storage operators warn: Can we get through the winter without Russian gas?

Economics Minister Habeck does not expect Russia to reopen Nord Stream 1, but does not seem too concerned.

Storage operators warn: Can we get through the winter without Russian gas?

Economics Minister Habeck does not expect Russia to reopen Nord Stream 1, but does not seem too concerned. After all, Germany had prepared itself. In the eyes of the storage operators, however, it is still too early for too much optimism. Households are what matter most now.

Russia has turned off the gas tap and is demanding an end to sanctions before it wants to supply Germany again via Nord Stream 1. This time, however, there was no great outcry. For months, politicians and the population feared how cold it would be and how deep the recession would be if the flow of gas dried up. In the meantime, it is almost casually noted that Economics Minister Robert Habeck no longer expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to turn on the gas tap again. The minister himself is even optimistic, after all the storage targets were reached earlier than planned through imports from other countries, LNG terminals were launched and the industry recently reduced its consumption significantly. The Energy Storage Initiative (INES), an association of operators of German gas and hydrogen storage facilities, warns against too much optimism.

Because two variables in the bill cannot be quantified at the moment, as managing director Sebastian Bleschke emphasizes in an interview with The decisive factor is how much households save - that will only really show up in October. The goal of the Federal Network Agency: 20 percent. In the first, somewhat colder week of September, however, consumption increased.

The second unknown: When will Germany get liquid gas? At the turn of the year, two state-chartered, floating terminals are scheduled to go into operation in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel, and a third from a private consortium in Lubmin; two more state ones in Stade and Lubmin are to be added at the end of 2023. According to Bleschke, however, it is not yet clear that the EU as a whole will actually receive more LNG in the coming winter. "It can be, but it's very difficult to assess," says the head of the association. For Germany, however, the import terminals certainly have a positive effect. Because the pipelines from Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands are already largely exhausted.

Kornelia Stycz, energy market expert from the consulting firm Aurora Energy Research, points out to that the demand for liquid gas in Asia is likely to increase with the onset of winter and the end of the strict corona measures. "Then we would be competing with the Asian markets in the LNG market and it would potentially get less to us."

On average, Germany imports about as much gas as it consumes on average per day, as Bleschke explains. In winter, this amount is not sufficient for current consumption, so stored gas is used that can be stored in summer. If less is imported in winter, the storage tanks could be emptied too quickly - then there would actually be a lack of gas. However, a defect could not only occur in this case, explains Bleschke. For technical reasons, only a certain amount of gas can be withdrawn: the less gas there is in storage, the lower the pressure and the slower withdrawal. This means that at the end of winter in particular, when the storage tanks are already low, consumers may not have as much gas available as they actually want to call off.

With low storage levels, for example, gas customers could go away empty-handed even if there were only a few cold days. This would initially affect industrial customers, who are only likely to consume smaller amounts of gas. According to Bleschke, heating private households is protected under European law.

However, a mild winter would significantly reduce the risk of a gas shortage. The federal government should therefore follow the weather forecasts with eagle eyes - and draw hope. According to the current forecasts, ntv meteorologist Björn Alexander expects the coming months up to February to be too warm for the time of year, even if long-term forecasts should be treated with caution. However, it should be borne in mind that months that are too warm overall could also include very cold sections. For example, last February an icy phase with snow and heavy night frost was followed by a rapid spring awakening, which ultimately made the month a little too warm.

Even with significantly less Russian gas, the storage facilities are currently almost 87 percent full, and by November 1 it should be 95 percent. At the moment, storage can continue without Nord Stream gas. However, Bleschke believes that 95 percent can only be reached if households consume less, especially in October. "If a lot of gas is used for heating in the next seven weeks, the possibility of storage is greatly reduced." Because the import quantities are already at the limit. In his estimation, however, it should definitely be possible to exceed the 90 percent mark.

On the part of the industry, Stycz von Aurora expects lower demand than in previous winters. "We expect that the political measures to save gas will also have an effect; the gas auctions, which are scheduled to start in October, will potentially be a control instrument." In addition, some gas-intensive industries no longer produce at all, for example ammonia production in the EU has fallen by 70 percent.

However, the question remains as to whether reservoirs that are 95 percent full would carry Germany through the winter at all. After all, without Russian gas, the import possibilities remained reduced in the winter, emphasizes Bleschke. The companies would have reacted to the sharp rise in gas prices. The fact that industry reduced its consumption by a good 21 percent in July compared to previous years will only have a minor impact on overall gas consumption in Germany in winter. "The industry is currently saving over 300 gigawatt hours a day, but in winter gas consumption can skyrocket to over 5,000 gigawatt hours a day on individual days," calculates the head of the association. Therefore, it is now particularly important that households save on heating.

Bleschke predicts that if the temperatures were normal and the heating behavior was appropriate, the storage tanks could already have been very heavily emptied in March or April. Even if not, it remains exciting to see how much of the storage capacity will be filled next year. This year they started the storage phase with 27 percent. If the value is lower next year, the challenge becomes even greater. "Then we would first have to catch up," said Bleschke. The Federal Network Agency had forecast at the beginning of August: "In all scenarios, even those without a gas shortage, there will be supply problems next winter 23/24 without additional countermeasures, for example higher reductions in consumption."

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