Gas savings plans are going badly – ​​too much is still being burned to generate electricity

Berlin, Brussels The hoped-for savings in electricity generation in gas-fired power plants have not materialized in recent months. Figures from the Federal Network Agency (BNA) prove this. According to this, more electricity was generated from natural gas in May and July than in the respective months of the previous year. In June 2022, there was only slightly less electricity from natural gas than in June of last year.

“We have to state that electricity generation from gas-fired power plants has hardly decreased since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. Against the background of the gas shortage, this is absolutely worrying, because there is an opportunity here to create relief very quickly through the increased use of hard coal-fired power plants and to counteract a future emergency situation,” said Christof Bauer, energy expert at the TU Darmstadt and chairman of the energy committee in the Association of Chemical Industry (VCI), the Handelsblatt.

It was an “absolutely sensible measure” to allow old coal-fired power plants to participate in the electricity market again. “Unfortunately, we have to say that the existing coal capacity is by no means being used to the maximum,” said Bauer.

The VIK association, in which the major energy consumers from industry have come together, calls for “more intensive efforts by the government” to save more natural gas in electricity generation or to replace it with other energy sources.

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The VIK members represent 80 percent of industrial energy consumption in Germany. For the operators of the coal-fired power plants, which were taken from the reserve, there is too little planning security, criticized VIK Managing Director Christian Seyfert. Market participation beyond April 2023 must be made possible.

Demand for electricity is enormous across Europe

The use of coal-fired power plants, which are allowed to participate in the market again, is regulated in the Replacement Power Plant Availability Act, which came into force in mid-July. It limits the use of the power plants and places certain requirements on the stockpiling of coal.

Power plant operators give two main reasons why coal-fired power plants are not yet being used to the desired extent:

  • On the one hand, there are enormous logistical challenges. The entire logistics chain for coal transport is now incomplete because the structures have already been adapted to the coal phase-out. “It starts with the crane operator in Rotterdam and extends to upgrading railway wagons for transporting coal – there is a shortage everywhere,” says an industry manager.
  • Added to this is the power shortage in Europe, especially in France, where a large part of the nuclear power plant fleet is idle. “The demand is enormous, which means that gas-fired power plants in Germany run longer,” it continues.

The EU gas emergency plan requires that gas consumption be reduced by 15 percent in the coming months up to March 2023. Current consumption is compared with average consumption over the past five years. Germany had particularly insisted that the EU states take this decision and wants to save 20 percent itself.

>> Also read here: New figures – gas will probably be enough “this winter and next”

In fact, overall consumption has already fallen significantly in recent months. According to figures compiled by the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) for the Handelsblatt, consumption in April was slightly higher than the five-year average. In May, however, it was 26.5 percent and in June it was still 19.8 percent below that. However, these values ​​relate to gas consumption in all areas of application, i.e. in industry, for power generation and for heating.

According to Andreas Kuhlmann, head of the German Energy Agency (dena), there is considerable pressure to act when it comes to savings. “We will only get through the winter well if every individual and company saves as much gas as possible. This works if all actors also have the necessary information on options for action and work together cooperatively,” said dena’s boss. The amounts of gas to be saved are still “enormous”.

Due to the required storage operation this winter and the likely low storage level after the heating period, “the challenges will also be significant for the subsequent 2023/24 heating season,” he added.

Study: Germany could get through the winter of 2023/2024 unscathed

A study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) comes to the conclusion that, with great effort, Germany can manage to be independent of gas supplies from Russia in the winter of 2023/24, even if only 20 percent of the possible capacity is still supplied via Nord Stream 1 will. The investigation is available to the Handelsblatt.

In order to achieve the goal, however, “a lot had to happen,” said study author Patrick Herhold. One assumption is that homes are actually being kept less warm. “The fact that private individuals heat their homes by two degrees less would be a massive cut. We haven’t had anything like this in Germany for decades,” said Herhold.

Other assumptions are that other EU countries will increase their deliveries to Germany, that the first German liquid gas terminal can be used from January, that industry will switch to other fuels, that nuclear power plants will run longer and that climate protection measures will be taken in power generation, in industry and in buildings are implemented faster than planned.

It is not certain that all of this will work. There are also concerns in the industry: “One problem is that many companies are worried about their survival and are wondering whether an investment in new systems is currently worthwhile,” said Herhold. “The mood in the economy is sometimes fatalistic.”

More: Cold withdrawal of Russian gas – Germany is threatened with an emergency winter

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