For several months, Russia has supplied Europe with less gas than agreed. This will not only push gas prices to record highs, but also increase the risk of gas shortages. Therefore, European governments are introducing measures to be well prepared for the winter months.
The Netherlands is already a good example: so far this year, 25-33 percent have been saved on gas. Although it was often at a high price: the energy bill became unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of families who were forced to turn down their heat.
In addition to households, the biggest energy savings in the Netherlands must come from large consumers, such as chemical companies, oil refineries and power plants. But how do other countries in Europe do it?
Belgium is not worried
In Belgium, there was a lot of opposition to the European gas plan in advance. The country is primarily a transit country: Three quarters of the gas that arrives in Belgium is re-exported to neighboring countries. Saving 15 percent is politically sensitive: It would mean that Belgium continues to supply other countries, but must force its own population to save, goes the argument.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo believes that his country will achieve the 15 percent savings without problems. How? Mainly because families save gas: they use about half of all gas in Belgium. If all those people turn down the thermostat a degree, the Belgians have come a long way. Belgian families already saved 13 percent in the first six months. Governments can also save a lot of gas this way, for example by turning off all lights at night by default. In addition, Belgium will keep two of the nuclear power plants that would close in 2025 open for ten years longer.
Germany: lignite and cold showers
There is much less optimism in Germany. There, gas consumption has only fallen by 5 to 7 percent this year. And that while before the war the country imported no less than 55 percent of its gas from Russia. To reduce that dependence and to rebuild gas supplies, the country will start burning coal again. It will be bad for the climate: Germany sits on top of a gigantic stockpile of lignite, which is even more polluting than coal.
In addition, the German government came up with a new plan two weeks ago. This is mainly aimed at companies: if a German company consumes more than ten gigawatt hours per year, German Minister Robert Habeck (Economic Affairs) wants to make savings measures mandatory. In particular, energy-saving measures that pay for themselves in less than two years will then become mandatory.
The savings must primarily come from German industry: Chemical companies and the pharmaceutical industry together account for 15 percent of gas consumption. If it is up to the German regulator, industrial companies must cut their consumption by a fifth. These companies say they fear this will put the German economy at risk.
But the need is great in Germany. Some major cities such as Berlin and Munich are already saving energy by no longer illuminating monuments. Hannover goes one step further: In swimming pools and sports centers you can only take a cold shower. Fountains also go out, and museums and the town hall are no longer illuminated at night.
Save gas for a safe winter
That is the title of the emergency plan that the EU Commission presented yesterday. The most important part of that plan is the intention to reduce gas consumption by 15 percent from August to April.
This is currently on a voluntary basis. The Commission wanted to be able to enforce gas savings from the start, but this was watered down after the Brussels negotiations. If an emergency situation arises, the situation changes. Then follows a vote that could still lead to mandatory savings.
26 of the 27 EU countries have agreed to this, only Hungary does not participate.
France chooses energy savings
Ban on illuminated billboards at night, ban on leaving doors open when the air conditioning or heating is running and shops that immediately turn off all lights after closing time. France has already started to save energy.
In France, most gas is used by companies. However, the country is much less dependent on Russian gas than Germany. The French get most of their electricity from nuclear power.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron, Russia uses gas as a ‘weapon of war’ and therefore the French must get used to a time of ‘energy savings’.
Macron, without giving details, aims to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent across France within two years. According to the French government, it starts with small savings, like turning off your WiFi router and unplugging all your plugs when you go on vacation.
Spain is in solidarity with the decree on air conditioning
The Spanish are not dependent on Russia for their gas. They get LNG from America and have a direct gas pipeline with Algeria. In addition, the country gets a lot of electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. So it is not surprising that Spain, like Belgium, was initially disruptive in Brussels.
Yet Spain is also in solidarity with the rest of Europe. The Spanish government therefore introduced a number of cost-saving measures for all businesses, shops and public buildings at the beginning of this week. They must not set their air conditioning system below 27 degrees Celsius in the summer. When heating in winter, a maximum temperature of 19 degrees applies. In addition, shops, museums and other public buildings must install automatic sliding doors so as not to lose heat or cold and turn off their lights at night.
All this should reduce energy consumption throughout Spain by 7 percent. However, there are still concerns about compliance with these new rules. Immediately from Madrid there were sounds that the capital will not obey because they would discourage tourism and consumption.