German pensioner Peter Faerber, 68, tries to save energy whenever and wherever he can.
“We shower shorter and colder, wash only with cold water. In the kitchen, we use the gas as rarely as possible, I have bought an external electric plate,” Mr. Faerber said.
Although it is already getting very cold in the morning, the retiree does not turn on his natural gas heating. Instead, he burns what little firewood he has left in his small oven. “I hope it‘s enough, otherwise we‘ll have to borrow some from the neighbours,“ he said.
Mr. Faerber lives in Kassel, the largest city in the north of the German state of Hesse, in the southwestern part of the country. Firewood is about 60 per cent more expensive than before Russia invaded Ukraine, he says. Even worse: most stores are sold out or he has to wait weeks or months for a delivery.
Mr. Faerber also bought a few gas cartridges for his camping stove to be able to cook in an emergency if the gas supply to his house is turned off.
With prices for gas and oil rising rapidly and fears of a long-lasting shutdown of Russian gas supplies, families and businesses across Europe are rethinking how much energy they use and preparing for a winter of hardships. In Germany, the anxiety over energy has led to a run on diesel as well as an increase in demand for household heating options of all kinds.
Governments are also making unprecedented moves and market interventions. Last week, Germany nationalized gas importer Uniper SE and Britain said it would halve energy bills for businesses in response to the deepening continental energy crisis.
The European Union plans to raise more than €140-billion ($185-billion) to shield consumers from high prices by skimming revenues from low-cost electricity generators and fossil-fuel companies, which are earning windfall profits. The EU will also require countries to cut electricity consumption by at least 5 per cent during peak hours, and ask them to reduce their overall electricity demand by at least 10 per cent until the end of March.
The state-controlled Russian gas company, Gazprom, after cutting off supplies to other European countries, has cut off gas deliveries to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline since Sept. 1. The Kremlin said this week it would keep the pipeline, which carries gas to Europe across the Baltic Sea, closed as long as the West maintains its economic sanctions.
Around three-quarters of Germans heat with gas. These consumers are now being hit particularly hard by high gas prices. In September of this year, a sample household that uses 20,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per year paid €4,350 ($5,753) for gas, according to the comparison portal Verivox. A year ago, the price for the same amount of gas was just €1,298 ($1,717), so the cost has increased 235 per cent.
And bills are likely to increase even more. Gas prices for consumers could triple from 2023, Germany’s Federal Network Agency warned, and it called on people to take precautions such as setting aside money each month for possible additional payments.
Mr. Faerber is worried about his living standard. “My pension is €1,200 [a month, which is $1,586] and if the energy costs double, I have less for other things. First of all, I would give up eating out in restaurants or going on vacation.”
Erna Mueller, 80, in Osnabrueck has stopped baking at home. “Baking is not possible right now. Too much energy consumption, you can no longer pay for that,” she said.
There is some hope. German gas storage facilities are currently almost 90-per-cent full. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the German government had set the target of filling 85 per cent of gas storage facilities by Oct. 1.
No other country in Europe has as much gas storage capacity as Germany: 47 facilities hold a total of up to 24 billion cubic metres of natural gas. According to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), this corresponds to 24 per cent of the EU‘s storage capacity.
This winter, Germany will have to rely much more heavily than usual on the stocks in its gas storage facilities because of a lack of gas from Russia. However, those stocks will not be sufficient to rule out gas shortfalls. The energy crisis has also forced cities across Germany to turn off night lights at landmarks, monuments and prominent buildings such as city halls, museums and libraries.
Meanwhile, hardware stores such as Hornbach, one of the three biggest chains in Germany, are experiencing an increase in demand for fuels of all kinds: firewood, wood pellets, gas in cartridges and lignite, often referred to as brown coal.
People are also stocking up on all kinds of alternative heating options such as electric and convection heaters, as well as radiators – all driven by the desires to save money, be self-sufficient and prepare for emergencies.
“We‘ve seen the biggest increase in pellets, where demand has been 100 per cent higher than last year since January,” Hornbach spokesperson Florian Preuss told The Globe and Mail. “As soon as new goods arrive at the store, they are already sold out 24 hours later.“
People are thinking about how to save energy in their homes as well. “Insulation materials have already been in high demand since the beginning of the year as a way of reducing energy consumption,” Mr. Preuss said. Homeowners are switching to LED lighting and installing water-saving shower heads. Solar modules for generating energy at home are in high demand, too.
And Germans are hoarding diesel. The CEO of the gasoline station association BFT, Duraid El Obeid, told The Globe many customers are buying dozens of canisters at stations that they fill up. He said some people told him they will bury the canisters in their garden because they are afraid their garage will burn down if the canisters catch fire.
The rush on alternative heating methods also has a dark side: peak loads in local electricity networks can trigger blackouts as too many homeowners use their power to generate heat.
This scenario can occur if too many people heat via fan heaters, the association of municipalities warned, adding that heating with fan heaters or ovens would not make sense because it is still more expensive than heating with gas.
With a file from Maximilian Mann.