Russia’s gas power play could also affect Germany’s power supply in winter. Because the markets for heat and electricity are closely related. What risks does this entail for consumers? An overview.
A blackout in the middle of winter would be one of the most potentially dangerous consequences to come indirectly from Russia’s war against Ukraine. So far, the power supply in Germany has been considered relatively secure. But will this hold up over the next winter?
The most important questions and answers:
After gas, could electricity soon become scarce?
Nobody can say for sure. An analysis of the electricity supply published just a few days ago by the Ministry of Economic Affairs comes to the conclusion that “safe operation of the electricity supply network is guaranteed in the winter of 2022/23”. But you don’t really trust it that much. Because the house of Robert Habeck (Greens) has already commissioned a second stress test, in which experts are to test and model the resilience of the German power supply under “further tightened conditions” – even fewer gas deliveries, even less nuclear power from France.
However, energy experts who were interviewed by the German Press Agency were mostly quite confident that the network would be able to withstand the stress test. Tobias Federico, managing director at consulting firm Energy Brainpool, said: “Personally, I’m not preparing for a blackout.” Despite the shutdown of the last German nuclear power plants at the end of the year in winter, the experts do not expect any major electricity bottlenecks, also because hard coal-fired power plants would be taken out of reserve. Christoph Maurer from Consentec, a consultant specializing in energy, considers the situation to be tense, but basically manageable in a normal winter. Thorsten Lenck from Agora Energiewende was more cautious: “According to our previous analyzes it is quite possible that it could become scarce in a few hours in winter.”
What specific risks are there for the German electricity supply?
At least four, if the experts are to be believed: France’s massive problems with its nuclear power plants, possible extreme weather, the supply situation for gas-fired power plants and consumer behavior. One of the biggest risk factors is the neighboring country of France. A large proportion of the nuclear power plants there are shut down after the discovery of small cracks in the emergency cooling system or due to maintenance work. Lenck and Maurer warned that if enough of these nuclear power plants were not connected to the grid again in time, this could pose a challenge for German suppliers due to the European network. It can be particularly critical in a cold winter because a lot of electricity is used for heating in France.
Second risk: freak weather. A “dark calm” can be particularly critical – several days with little wind and at the same time hardly any solar power. If this happens in Germany and France at the same time and then there is a cold spell, that is worrying, says Federico. Third risk: the supply of gas power plants with sufficient fuel. It is true that they only make up a very small part of the capacities in Germany. But at peak loads, they can be crucial to ensure grid stability, emphasized Lenck. In 2021, a good 15 percent of the total electricity generated came from gas combustion – but now, due to the uncertain Russian supplies, more gas is to be reserved for heating.
And finally, consumer behavior that is difficult to predict. In recent weeks, the demand for electric heaters – from fan heaters to convector heaters – has increased significantly. If it were used for heating on a large scale, it could bring the power grid to its knees, Maurer warned: “This is a scenario that must be prevented at almost any price.” Because it would overwhelm the possibilities of the power grid, both in terms of generation and transport. The growing number of e-cars has not yet been a problem, said the expert.
How are the electricity prices going?
Economical use of electricity is recommended, even with a view to your own wallet. Like gas, electricity prices have recently risen drastically. According to the comparison portals Verivox and Check24, in June they were around 30 percent higher than in the same month last year. The elimination of the EEG surcharge gives consumers some relief, emphasized Verivox energy expert Thorsten Storck – but this is probably only a breathing space. “By the turn of the year at the latest, we expect to see electricity price increases across the board for millions of households.”
However, according to industry experts, there is much to suggest that the increase will not be as dramatic as in the case of gas. “The price of electricity will certainly also rise, but not quite as sharply,” says Florian Stark from Check24. The development on the electricity exchanges is less drastic. In addition, costs for procurement and sales made up “only” 44 percent of the price for electricity and over 60 percent for gas. However, a number of companies fear that they will not be able to bear the additional burden in purchasing for much longer. The Association of Energy Consumers (VEA) recently spoke of an average increase in electricity prices of almost 62 percent since January. The situation is now life-threatening.
What can you do to save electricity?
In winter, this becomes doubly important to keep the net stable and to protect your wallet. Wherever and whenever lighting or continuous machines are not absolutely necessary in everyday life, they can be dispensed with. Again and again there is the advice to completely unplug electronic devices or entertainment electronics that are not used regularly instead of leaving them in standby mode.
In addition, combined heat and power – the parallel generation of electricity and heat from the same fuel – could increase efficiency. For consumers, there are mini combined heat and power plants. In industry, too, the excess amount of hot steam that is not required to move a turbine and then to operate a generator can be reused. The efficiency is then higher.
Can renewable energies help?
The values for Germany are gradually improving, but the energy transition remains a longer-term task. According to data from the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), the generation of electricity from sources such as wind, solar and hydropower as well as bioenergy and geothermal energy increased by 14 percent in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year.
A total of more than 137 billion kilowatt hours of electrical energy came together. According to estimates, regenerative carriers account for around 49 percent of gross domestic electricity consumption – eight percentage points above the level at the end of 2021. Similar figures were recently reported by the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW).