Winter is coming: Can the German industry overcome the looming gas scarcity?

Germany has the largest industrial sector in the European Union, and the largest industrial gas consumption in Europe. It is by far the largest European importer of Russian gas, and the interruption of Russian deliveries has forced Germany to review its supply and demand outlook. Given that households and other smaller consumers are protected by European and German regulation, industrial customers are most likely to have to bear the brunt of a looming gas tightness this winter. This paper examines the situation of the German industry at the beginning of winter 2022/23. It discusses the role of gas in Germany’s industrial sector; provides an outlook on the gas supply situation for winter 2022/2023 as well as an overview of the current legal and institutional framework governing the gas emergency plan.

The paper argues that even though much legislative action has taken place so far, and additional measures will likely be issued, some decisions (or in some cases failure to take decisions) appear half-hearted. On the plus side, storage was full at the beginning of winter and there is no insecurity about Russian gas deliveries as they are already down to zero. The (quasi) fact that Russia will not return to the German gas market leaves of course a huge supply gap, but as this was already clear in the summer and allowed market players to prepare (as far as possible) for this situation. Nevertheless, demand reduction programs seem insufficient to reduce consumption in an adequate manner. Some measures, such as consumer subsidies, could even undermine the reduction plans. This might lead to a gas supply gap, which in turn could lead to a cut-off of industrial customers.

The legal framework and the responsibilities are set out in the federal emergency plan, but this plan remains very vague. At present, there are no precise plans or rules concerning shutdown of individual industrial customers or sectors. Finally, industry may face a critical winter, even if enough gas is in the system, as prices are far from a level that keeps German energy-intensive industry sectors competitive with their rivals in China or other countries.

By: Andreas Seeliger