When the Gas Runs Out: What Happens in a Gas Shortage?

Reading time: 7 min

Germany is currently at alert level as regards gas supply, meaning the situation is strained but under control.

However, the German Federal Network Agency calculates that should gas deliveries from Russia remain discontinued, this could lead to a shortage– and according to the Gas Emergency Plan drawn up by the German federal government, that amounts to emergency level. What does this actually mean, and how would it affect theRuhr metropolitan region? 

The Gas Emergeny Plan

In the event of a shortage, the Gas Emergency Plan stipulates that the Federal Network Agency will determine the allocation of gas in Germany. The business sector will be the first to be asked to reduce consumption. The Federal Network Agency will start by reviewing which areas would be least affected economically, and whether shutting plants and facilities down would result in long-term damage. We can expect the leisure sector to be the first in line, with amenities like swimming pools, sauna worlds, skating rinks, and similar energy-intensive offers being impacted. 

By law, private households, certain specific social institutions, and critical infrastructure receive special protection. In the event of dwindling gas stores, they should continue to be supplied, albeit only within reason: a home sauna or heated pool will not count as protected, for example. Likewise, small groups of people living in homes of above-average size might find themselves required to heat only one part of the home.   

Citizens are certainly going to feel the gas shortage in their wallets. This is already happening now, and the situation could get even more serious.  

Should companies have to halt their activities due to a lack of gas, jobs will be at risk – according to estimates, up to 5.6 million positions could be lost. Meanwhile, prices will continue to rise, both for gas and electricity and for food and other daily necessities.  

These painful measures are designed to ward off the threat of an emergency – that is, no longer having enough gas in our stores to supply citizens with heat and electricity.  

What Will Happen If a Gas Emergency Is Declared?  

In 2019 federal and state authorities ran test simulations for a gas emergency. Among other things, the final report by theGerman Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistancecame to the conclusionthat even customers who are specially protected by law cannot be certain that the gas will continue to be guaranteed. As well as affecting around 20 million homes in Germany that are heated with gas, this would also lead to school closures and hospitals having to transfer patients. Security agencies and administrative bodies would onlyremain operational to a limited extent. Large bakeries, the dairy industry, and livestock farming would also be compromised, and this in turn would impact on food supplies. 

Power Outages and Blackouts Are Possible during Gas Shortages 

If there is no longer enough gas available, there could also be power outages. Partly because around 13 percent of Germany’s electricity, and in winter generally more, is generated using natural gas. And partly because many households will be trying to make up for the lack of heat from their heating system by using electric space heaters, which consume a lot of electricity. Intensive use of these can potentially overload the power grid and trigger a blackout, at which point the electricity in some regions would be switched off altogether or would simply fail.

The list of consequences of such a blackout is long and demonstrates just how heavily we depend on electricity:

  • Telecommunication systems will stop working – no phone, no Internet

  • Drinking water supplies will be disrupted

  • Refrigeration systems will stop working, causing food to spoil

  • With cash register systems, freezers, and supermarket entrance doors all not working, shops might remain closed

  • ATMs and electronic payment systems will stop working

  • Fuel pumps at filling stations won’t work, so there will be no fuel

  • All public transport will come to a halt

  • Street lighting and traffic light systems will stop working

  • Ventilation in tunnels will stop working

  • Traffic will come to a standstill

  • Supply chains will be disrupted

  • Important IT systems will stop working

  • The healthcare system will be compromised

What Hazards Would a Gas Shortage Cause in The Ruhr Valley?

Around two thirds of apartments and houses in North Rhine-Westphalia are heated with gas. In certain cities in the Ruhr valley, such as Dortmund, the figure rises to three quarters. This means that any outage of gas heating systems would hit the Ruhr valley disproportionately hard.

In conurbations like the Ruhr valley, we must expect that if the gas remains out for an extended period, some citizens will attempt to heat their homes in other ways – for example, by bringing disused fireplaces and ceramic woodstoves back into use and/or burning damp wood and garbage. This is likely to lead to more apartment fires and deflagrations.

Densely populated towns depend more heavily on a functioning power supply than rural areas, because in urban areas there are not many alternative heat sources or possible ways to obtain food and drinking water. Equally, the impact of any prolonged stoppage of garbage and wastewater disposal systems would be more rapid and severe in cities, because the confined spaces would allow diseases to spread more rapidly.

Since the Ruhr valley is Germany’s largest conurbation, it would therefore be seriously affected.

How Should I Prepare for a Gas Emergency?

Plan now for how you might handle any restrictions caused by a gas shortage:

  • If you have a usable fireplace or stove in your home in addition to central heating, invest in a small stockpile of firewood or briquettes. It might also be a good idea to have your fireplace or woodstove checked out again, just to be sure it’s really safe to use. To learn more, click here.

  • Think about how to prepare food without a stove. To learn more, click here.

  • A carefully thought-out supply of useful items at home can help you weather an emergency without problems. This should include a flashlight, batteries, candles, and warm blankets; 10 days’ worth of drinking water and food that will store well; and a home medical kit. Make sure electronic devices and power banks are charged and will be ready to hand in the event of a power outage.

  • Since ATMs and card payment machines might also stop working during a power outage, it would be sensible to keep a small cash reserve for essential expenditure.

  • If you fear you might have to leave your home at short notice, it’s best to pack an emergency backpack and leave it in an easily accessible location in your home. Don’t forget to include important documents. For a complete overview of preparatory measures for minor and major emergencies, click here.