Germany pulls first of three emergency levers to conserve energy supplies: ‘Every kilowatt helps’

March 30, 2022, 3:33 PM UTC

Fearing Russia could halt energy exports to its economy at any time, Germany pulled the first of three levers of an emergency plan to conserve its natural gas supplies.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck told reporters on Wednesday the move was still strictly preventative in nature as contracts are continuing to be honored for the moment by Moscow. The country was not in any acute danger of needing to ration supplies.

Nonetheless, he was initiating the Early Warning stage to monitor vulnerabilities in the system with the help of a new task force comprised of government officials, grid regulators and utilities representatives that would meet every day.

“The other stages are called Alert and Emergency, and only with the final Emergency stage would the state intervene and regulate the flow of gas,” said Habeck. Before that lever would be pulled, utilities would be first tasked with taking measures affecting their customers in order to conserve supplies. 

“We’re not there yet, and we don’t want to be,” he added. 

Habeck explained his decision to initiate the early warning monitoring system stemmed from an announcement by Russia to propose changes to legislation on Thursday that could force Germany to pay for its imports in rubles, a breach of current contractual terms.

As a result, Habeck made it clear that energy conservation was not only a patriotic duty for consumers and businesses alike, it was also in Ukraine’s interests as well. 

“We’re in the situation where I have to clearly state that every kilowatt hour saved helps,” he said. 

‘Absolutely insane’

Currently natural gas storage tanks are about a quarter full, according to Habeck. Given a number of factors that affect demand, Habeck said he was unable to reliably predict how long the current supply could last should Russia halt exports.

Nevertheless, with warmer temperatures arriving, he made it clear his main concern is ensuring Germany can face the upcoming winter, when Europe wants its tanks about 80% full

Germany’s dependence on Russia for importing gas has dropped, from stable levels of 55% to only 40%, according to Habeck. The change was mainly a result of new supplies of liquified natural gas from terminals in the Netherlands, as well as supplies from neighbors France and Belgium.

Perhaps as a result, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested on Wednesday the Kremlin may soften its stance on ruble payments, saying the transition would not happen overnight: “Payments and deliveries are a time-consuming process,” he told reporters.

Putin’s war of aggression on Ukraine painfully highlighted the dependence of Germany on cheap energy imports from Russia that grew under the previous government led by Angela Merkel, as the country slowly phased out nuclear power.

Germany is the only country to announce a phased exit from both coal and nuclear fission, putting strains on its energy security. 

In an interview with a German weekly published on Sunday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called on the government to abandon plans to shut its three last remaining atomic power plants, a decision that had been hastily taken following the disaster in Fukushima. 

“I want to be totally clear, it’s absolutely insane,” Musk told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, arguing the danger posed by natural disasters in Germany was remote. “Not only should the existing plants not be shut down, you should reactivate those already taken offline.”

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