Doing without Russian gas, energy puzzle for Germany

“No taboo” to free itself from dependence on Russian gas: Germany must diversify its supplies and explore all alternatives, betting on the import of liquefied natural gas and even suggesting a postponement of the exit from nuclear power and coal .

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The leading European economy is forced to review its entire energy strategy to do without Russian imports, which represent 55% of its gas purchases.

But this “change of course” announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, will be counted in years, will involve massive expenses and will come up against technical difficulties, warn experts.

Equipment to build

To carry out this about-face, Berlin is counting first on greater use of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, transported by sea, thanks to a liquefaction process.

A first step was taken on Wednesday: the government announced the release of an exceptional envelope of 1.5 billion euros to buy LNG, the main exporters of which are the United States, Qatar and Australia.

But the infrastructure is sorely lacking: the country currently has no LNG terminal on its territory to receive deliveries.

A situation that obliges Berlin to use one of the 21 terminals present in the EU, which is not without cost, in terms of transport, even though the price of gas and energy has soared in recent months.

“We must quickly build our own LNG carriers in Germany, with the necessary connections and infrastructure”, therefore concluded the Ministry of the Economy.

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Several projects had been in the making for years but were blocked by the lack of economic and political support. They should benefit from “public financial support”, assures the government.

This is the case of equipment planned in the city of Stade. “The technical studies are complete,” assures AFP Hanseatic Energy Hub, the company in charge of the project.

In the port of Wilhemshaven, the Belgian group TES will also build an LNG terminal, he announced on Wednesday.

But these projects should not be completed for several years: “For a terminal, it takes a minimum of three years of authorization procedure, and two years of construction”, explains to AFP Karen Pittel, energy expert for the economic institute IFO. .

Another obstacle, more political: like the environmental ministers, including Vice-Chancellor and Minister of the Economy Robert Habeck, will they make their troops accept this energy source with its controversial environmental impact?

Gas remains a fossil fuel whose exploitation contributes to global warming, denounce the defenders of the environment.

Objectives sacrificed?

Without a short-term alternative, Germany wonders: would it be necessary, to guarantee the energy security of the country without Russian gas, to temporarily abandon certain climate objectives?

Here again, a challenge for a government that wants to be exemplary in terms of ecological transition: the contract of the coalition in power for three months provides for an exit from coal from 2030.

Especially since the shift towards renewable energies requires, paradoxically, the use of additional energy – gas, coal or nuclear, when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.

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The infrastructure for storing renewable energy, via hydrogen, will not be ready for several years.

“There are no taboos,” said Robert Habeck, Green Minister for the Economy and Climate recently. “In the short term, we may have to keep coal-fired power stations (…), as a precautionary measure,” he added.

The minister even mentioned the possibility of postponing the closure of the last three German nuclear power plants scheduled for this year.

A solution which remains however very delicate from a technical point of view. “We do not extend like that a nuclear power plant that we have decided to close,” said Karine Pittel, of the IFO.

“Continued operation would not be feasible (…) the obstacles are extremely high, both technically and administratively”, confirmed to Handelsblatt the energy company RWE, operator of the Emsland power station, which must close at the end of 2022.

The minister has also admitted: “nuclear power would not help us for the winter of 2022/23”.

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