German authorities have issued another dire warning about a possible shortage of natural gas over the winter, with fears that German households might be left in the cold, driving sales of electric heaters to soar in a spree of panic shopping.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told Deutschlandfunk radio on Sept. 30 that the country is in an “extremely tense situation” when it comes to energy supply.
“If we don’t save, if households don’t reduce consumption, we still risk not having enough gas in the winter,” he said.
Europe’s biggest economy is struggling to cope with surging gas and electricity costs caused mostly by a collapse in Russian gas supplies to Europe, which Moscow has blamed on Western sanctions.
Germany’s network regulator Bundesnetzagentur, which would be responsible for gas rationing in case of a supply emergency, said in a statement on Sept. 29 that household consumption was too high to be sustainable.
Bundesnetzagentur chief Klaus Mueller called for “sustained austerity efforts,” saying that gas consumption by households and businesses in the prior week were “well above” consumption levels in prior years, calling the figures “sobering.”
“Without significant cutbacks in the private sector, too, it will be difficult to avoid a gas shortage in winter,” he said in a statement, adding that cutbacks are needed even if temperatures continue to fall and even then there’s no guarantee of a “sure-fire success.”
Mueller said Germany will be able get through the winter under three conditions: the country has to import more gas; the gas supplies of neighboring countries must remain stable; and each individual must cut back on gas consumption, “even if it gets even colder toward winter.”
Sales of electric heaters in Germany, between January and August 2022, have jumped 76 percent compared to the year-ago period, according to market research company Growth from Knowledge (GfK) data provided to German news outlet Deutsche Welle.
It comes as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set out a $194 billion “defensive shield” that includes a gas price brake and a cut in sales tax for the fuel in a bid to protect businesses and households from the pain of soaring energy costs.
Under the plans, which are expected to run until spring 2024, the government will introduce an emergency price brake on gas, the details of which will be announced next month. The government also is scrapping a planned gas levy meant to help firms struggling with high spot market prices.
A temporary electricity price brake will subsidize basic consumption for consumers and small and medium-sized companies. Sales tax on gas will fall to 7 percent from 19 percent.
In his remarks to Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday, Habeck said Germany’s gas price brake will be limited to covering 80 percent of normal household usage in an effort to encourage consumers to save energy and avoid a shortage.