What Is the Gas Emergency Plan – and Am I Allowed to Keep Heating with Gas?

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Fall and winter are on their way, and the days are getting colder. When your sweater isn’t quite warm enough, it’s time to turn on the heating – or is it? Am I even allowed to do that now? Gas is no longer flowing from Russia, and that affects nearly everyone in Germany.To learn more about the Gas Emergency Plan, read on.

If you use gas for your heating – and around one in two German households do – you may well be worrying about how to get through the cold season. #readydoneright provides answers to the most important questions about the Gas Emergency Plan announced by the German federal government.

The Gas Supply Situation in Germany

At present, the gas supply in Germany is assured – but the situation is strained nonetheless. The missing quantities normally supplied by Russia are currently being procured from elsewhere on the market, albeit at very high prices.

The volume of gas supplies we need to get us through the winter in good shape has been set out by the federal government in the German Gas Storage Act (Gasspeichergesetz). This specifies how full gas stores must be at certain key dates:

  • As of October 1, 2022, they should be 85 percent full

  • As of November 1, 95 percent full

  • As of February 1, they should still be over 40 percent full

The target level for October was reached in early September, nearly four weeks before the appointed date. However, this is no reason to relax: it remains unclear whether the current situation will allow us to reach the target level of 95 percent at the end of November. In addition, the gas stores only have storage capacity for 240 terawatt hours (TWh) of gas – just one third of Germany’s actual consumption. Last fall and winter, for example, we used 632 TWh of gas.

Heating economically therefore remains an important aim for the months ahead. We will only find out how effective these measures actually are when the heating season begins in early October.

Winter 2023/24 Will Be the Next Big Challenge

The German Federal Network Agency has sketched out a number of scenarios for how the gas supply situation might evolve over the coming months. According to these, the legal storage target for winter 2022/23 will only be reached if Russia delivers at least 40 percent of the maximum consumption and Germany restricts its exports to other countries while simultaneously lowering its own usage by 20 percent. Should deliveries from Russia be discontinued entirely, we will start to run out of gas in mid-December or January.

But even if we were to get through winter 2022/23 without a gas shortage, ensuring a reliable supply for 2023/24 might well be an even greater challenge. Which is why the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) considers it essential for Germany to limit its gas consumption as much as possible.

The 3 Levels of the Gas Emergency Plan

In a crisis situation, the supply of gas in Germany is regulated by the Gas Emergency Plan. It defines three escalation levels:

Gas Emergency Plan: Early Warning Level

Shortly after the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the German federal government declared activation of the early warning level. This level is all about making provision, signaling to the gas suppliers and those operating the pipelines to fill up the gas stores; to industry to avoid using gas in large quantities; and to consumers to limit their energy usage. The early warning level also requires gas suppliers to draw up plans on how to save gas in an emergency.

The BMWK set up a gas crisis team made up of Ministry staff and industry representatives. The team holds daily discussions and advises the directors of the BMWK.

Gas Emergency Plan: Alert Level

Since June 23, the country has been at the second level of the Gas Emergency Plan: the alert level. First and foremost, this involves doing all we can to ward off the threat of an emergency.

The alert level indicates that the gas supply situation has deteriorated as a result of supply disruption or unusually high demand – but that the market is still able to cope with this deterioration. In concrete terms today, it means that since the summer, Norway has expanded the amount of gas it supplies throughout Europe and is currently Germany’s most important gas supplier. Almost a quarter of Germany’s gas requirements are met by supplies from the Netherlands, and a small portion of its natural gas comes from Belgium. Germany also imports LNG (liquid natural gas) from the USA. This gas is supercooled at high pressure and then transported by ship. Discussions are also underway with Qatar, Australia, Algeria, and Nigeria as potential future suppliers of LNG.

Gas Emergency Plan: Emergency Level

If the situation deteriorates further, the German federal government will trigger the third level of the Gas Emergency Plan: the emergency level. This happens when demand is unusually high and cannot be met by the market. At this point the state intervenes to guarantee supply to critical infrastructure and private households.

At the emergency level, the Federal Network Agency determines the allocation of gas in Germany. The following receive special protection:

  • Private households

  • Certain specific social institutions such as hospitals, residential and care homes, daycare centers and schools

  • Police stations and barracks

  • Gas power stations that ensure the supply of electricity and heat to households

Industrial customers, on the other hand, might see their supply reduced or turned off. Likewise, the state could order them to cut their gas consumption, or to only use electricity generated without gas.

Private Households Enjoy Special Protection

Should there really be a supply shortage, top priority will be given to supplying private households and specific social institutions.

In particular, citizens’ apartments and houses are to be shielded from restrictions. Before there can be any reduction to the gas supply for your heating, the industrial sector would have to tighten its belt first.

In short, you may continue turning your heating on when you’re cold, taking hot showers, and using your stove. That said, it’s in everyone’s interest for private households to look at limiting their consumption too.

By being more careful than usual with gas and electricity use, you’ll be helping to avoid supply restrictions. Plus, gas is currently very expensive, and we have to assume prices will continue to rise. Which means your bank balance will thank you as well. So take a moment to think about what you yourself can do to use a bit less electricity and gas. For your own sake, and for everyone else’s too.

Saving Gas Is Always Important

One thing is certain: supplies are not infinite, and their replenishment cannot be guaranteed. Once we’ve gotten through winter 2022/23, we’ll have to start providing for winter 2023/24. Finding long-term ways of getting by on less gas is a challenge for the country, for the states, and naturally for municipalities as well.

There are also short-term measures for reducing consumption at least enough to avoid a shortage. For example, the Deutscher Städtetag (Association of German Cities and Towns) has drawn up a list of ways for its members to save energy, and some have already been implemented.