Germany racing to stockpile gas before winter season
Germany's battle to wean itself from Russian energy and store enough gas before winter is taking place in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps.
Like other storage facilities, the Bierwang natural gas field in Unterreit is one of Germany's largest underground gas facilities. It refills its inventories between winters in order to keep houses warm and Germany's energy-hungry industries running during the cold months when demand is highest.
European governments are scrambling to store supplies as the war in Ukraine goes on.
Sebastian Herold, a professor of energy economics at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, stated that the security of supply in the winter depends on two factors, "how full the storage facilities are and how much new gas keeps arriving from abroad."
He added that Russian deliveries are crucial.
Fears that a sudden shortfall of Russian gas may bring Europe's largest economy to its knees drove the German government to pass laws mandating that all of the country's gas reservoirs be 90% full by November.
The capacity of the above and subsurface sites combined is able to cover 25% of Germany's natural gas demand. They operate as a form of buffer in times of market stress or when demand increases due to extremely cold weather.
Germany has already decided to phase out Russian oil and coal as part of Western sanctions against Moscow. However, getting independent of Russian gas will take longer – and will not be cheap, as the Ukraine conflict and following sanctions drive up energy prices.
So far, Berlin has managed to cut its reliance on Russian natural gas from 55% prior to the war to 35% presently, owing to increasing supply from countries such as Norway and the Netherlands, as well as liquefied natural gas contracts (LNG).
A network of long-distance pipes transports gas to the Bierwang storage facility. The gas is then compressed before being injected into porous sandstone reserves deep down.
This approach enables enormous amounts of natural gas to be stored, although it takes longer to fill and empty than the second type of subterranean storage that relies on massive caverns in rock salt formations, which is more popular in northern Germany.
Doug Waters, managing director of Uniper Energy Storage, which operates nine storage facilities in Germany stated that "we're on a good way to hopefully deliver the security supply this winter."
According to the German Federal Network Agency, which broadcasts daily reports online, Germany's gas storage facilities were 55% full on Tuesday.
The agency's chairman, Klaus Mueller, said the current fill rate is "better than in past years, but still insufficient." The situation at Germany's critical Rehden gas storage facility in the north, the country's largest, complicates the country's task to prepare for winter.
In April, the German state temporarily assumed control of the site's owner, Gazprom Germania, a move Berlin justified as vital to safeguard energy security as relations with Russia deteriorated.
German taxpayers and gas users could face an increased cost, approximately €5 billion ($5.4 billion), since Russia imposed sanctions against Gazprom Germania and its subsidiaries, the Welt am Sonntag weekly reported, citing industry representatives.
Last month, in May, Russia stopped supplying Gazprom Germania the German subsidiary of Gazprom. The decision came after Berlin put the company under trustee management following the Ukraine war.