A great dependence on Russian gas… The problem has been brought to light by the crisis in Ukraine, but Germany would prefer to conceal it. In early February, former Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) made amends in the economic weekly WirtschaftsWoche, acknowledging that “the last decades, marked by the deregulation of the energy market, have led us to choose gas the cheapest, the one supplied by the Russian gas pipeline”. According to statistics from IHS Markit, this represents 55% of German imports, ahead of deliveries from Norway (30.6%) and the Netherlands (12.7%).
A situation of interdependence inherited from the privileged relations maintained by successive governments since the 1970s. This is former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005), chairman of the Nord Stream 2 shareholders’ committee and who could join in June to the supervisory board of the Russian gas company Gazprom , which initiated the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline. Commissioned in 2011, this pipeline under the Baltic Sea connects Vyborg, in Russia, to Greifswald, in Germany, and carries every year some 55 billion cubic meters of gas. It complemented two other gas pipelines: Yamal, commissioned in 2003, for 33 billion cubic meters per year and Soyuz, which transports 146 billion cubic meters per year via Ukraine.
One week of autonomy in extreme cold
At the beginning of 2022, less than half the volume of gas from Russia was transported compared to the beginning of 2021.
Anke Herold, director of the Öko-Institut
Angela Merkel, she supported the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 project, twin of Nord Stream 1, which follows the same route and allows to double the capacity. And thereby to reinforce Germany’s dependence on its main supplier. On February 22, Germany suspended the authorization of this gas pipeline after Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the separatist territories in eastern Ukraine. Especially since to increase the pressure, Moscow has restricted its deliveries to the strict minimum of what is contractually planned. “At the beginning of 2022, less than half the volume of gas was transported from Russia compared to the beginning of 2021”,analyzes Anke Herold, director of the Institute of Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut), in Freiburg im Breisgau. By January 30, the German tanks were less than 40% full. That’s barely enough to hold out for a very cold week.
At the forefront, industry, the largest consumer of natural gas (38.5% of volumes), ahead of households, is watching the situation carefully. “The availability of natural gas is important for our activity, because it is both a source of energy and an essential raw material, describes Thomas Nonnast, spokesperson for the BASF group .We have entered into long-term delivery contracts with various suppliers, the pricing of which is based on spot prices. In order to avoid any disruption in the supply, we work closely with them as well as with the network operators and, if necessary, with the public authorities. We are also closely monitoring the measures taken by the European Union and by governments. »
So far, Russia has always delivered, including this winter. Sourcing from this source was no game of chance. It was reliable and cheap.
Siegfried Russwurm, President of the BDI
However, Siegfried Russwurm, the president of the BDI, the federation of German industry, refuses to see the energy security of the sector threatened. “Up to now, Russia has always delivered, including this winter, he reassures. Sourcing from this source was no game of chance. It was reliable and cheap. However , he admits that the question of a better distribution of imports arises. A change of tone shared by political circles. In addition to Azerbaijan, “there is a theoretical possibility of supplying us by a gas pipeline from North Africa, replied Robert Habeck, the Minister of Economy and Climate, to a parliamentary question.And if this is not the case, it will be necessary to buy more liquefied natural gas (LNG). »
Up to three LNG terminal projects
Germany has long postponed the construction of its own LNG import terminals, due to the high cost of these infrastructures. On the other hand, since LNG is more expensive than pipeline gas, its import volume remained limited. For the time being, it passes through the ports of Zeebrugge (Belgium) and Rotterdam (Netherlands). However, these are not the projects that are lacking. Three North Sea coastal cities are in the running: Wilhelmshaven, Brunsbüttel and Stade, which could transport 10 to 12 billion cubic meters of LNG each.
Stalled for lack of political will, these plans are now back on the table, but they will not be operational before 2026. A shorter-term line of thought would go through the creation of a national strategic reserve, while Gazprom currently controls up to 25% of German storage capacity. “This would make it possible to guard against too much volatility, specifies Anke Herold. Minimum filling levels in gas reservoirs could be imposed by contract, as is the case for oil storage, which must ensure 90 days of consumption. “ A track envisaged to better prepare for next winter.
Ukrainian hydrogen as a replacement
With a €9 billion national plan, Germany has placed green hydrogen at the heart of its industry decarbonisation strategy. The question of imports will be crucial. The government has already started talks with Ukraine to secure its supplies. The country is positioning itself as a producer of green hydrogen based on wind energy and plans to deliver 7.5 GW of hydrogen to the European Union in the medium term.
To capture part of it, Germany is considering the possibility of circulating it via the Soyuz-Transgaz gas pipeline which crosses the country. Especially since it could lose some of its volumes to Nord Stream 2, if the latter were to be put into service. In all cases, studies are in progress on the compatibility between hydrogen and steel pipes. In the event of positive conclusions, then only surface equipment, such as compressor stations, would have to be converted, which would represent a limited investment compared to the laying of new pipelines. Berlin has also promised kyiv 200 million euros for its energy transition.