Germany approves energy-saving measures for winter

By Beth Timmins
Business reporter, BBC News

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Gas line technicianImage source, Getty Images

The German government has approved a set of energy-saving measures for the winter which will limit the use of lighting and heating in public buildings.

The government aims to reduce gas usage by 2% through the new rules.

Germany's economy minster said the rules could save private households, companies and the public sector around €10.8bn (£9.1bn) over two years.

It is part of efforts to reduce the country's dependency on Russian gas.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany got 55% of its gas from Russia but it has reduced this to 35% and vowed to end imports completely.

However, it remains a huge market for Moscow and paid almost €9bn (£7.7bn; $9.6bn) for Russian oil and gas in the first two months of the war.

Russia has also cut flows of gas through the key Nordstream 1 pipeline to Germany to 20% of capacity, raising fears it may turn off the taps this winter.

Germany's Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters that his country wanted to free itself "as quickly as possible from the grip of Russian energy imports".

But he added: "Overall the [new] measures save energy. However, not to the extent that we can sit back and say, 'That'll do now.'"

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin had its lights turned off in July

Starting from September, public buildings apart from institutions like hospitals, are to be heated to a maximum of 19C and the heating may be turned off completely in entrances, corridors and foyers.

Public monuments and buildings will also not be lit up for aesthetic reasons and businesses could be banned from keeping their shops illuminated at night.

Private swimming pool heating could also be banned. And the country will give coal and oil cargo priority over passenger travel on railways meaning passengers will have to wait.

"We have a shortage situation on the rails right now," Transport Minister Volker Wissing said. "That means that if additional fuel transports are temporarily necessary we would have to prioritise them."

Boosting storage capacity

Germany also plans to run publicity campaigns to tell locals how they can cut down on their own consumption.

And amid concerns about winter shortages, the country is setting up two liquefied natural gas terminals on the North Sea coast to improve storage.

Most European Union member states have committed to voluntarily reduce gas use by 15% this winter - although this will become mandatory if there are serious shortages. Meanwhile, Spain has already brought in rules limiting use of air conditioning and heating temperatures in public and large commercial buildings, as it seeks to save energy.

On Wednesday, Switzerland's energy minister said it would "certainly make sense" for the country to align with the EU's plan in order to prevent an energy crisis.

Switzerland's electricity commission has also recommended that households stock up on candles in case of blackouts caused by changes in Russian supplies.

Earlier this month Swiss energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said she would try to enact a plan to have the heating turned down in public buildings.