gas compressor station germany
© Filip Singer / EPA-EFE
The gas compressor station in Mallnow, near the German-Polish border, has stopped receiving Russian gas through the Yamal-Europe pipeline, which transits Belarus and Poland, since Russian operator Gazprom in May had discontinued usage of the Poland section. Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom on 11 July 2022 suspended deliveries of gas to Germany via Nord Stream 1 for scheduled annual summer maintenance works
The European Commission is drafting plans to help EU countries reduce fossil gas demand and, if necessary, curtail consumption in the face of "a likely deterioration of gas supply outlook" this winter, according to leaked policy proposals seen by EURACTIV.

Over the past few months, gas supplies from Russia have declined in a "deliberate attempt to use energy as a political weapon", driving energy prices higher and raising concerns about whether Europe will have enough supply to get through the next winter.

Comment: Not quite; Europe has sanctioned itself out of the gas market: Whilst Canada withholds turbine, Gazprom cannot guarantee functioning of Nord Stream pipeline

Already, supply to the Baltic States, Poland, Bulgaria and Finland has stopped. Supply to Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy has been reduced and flows through Nord Stream 1, the largest import route to the EU, have been cut by 60%.

"There is no reason to believe this pattern will change. Rather, a number of signals, including the latest decision to reduce further supply to Italy, point to a likely deterioration of gas supply outlook," the Commission says in a new policy document, seen by EURACTIV.

The policy document, due to be published on Wednesday (20 July), has a self-explanatory title: "Save gas for a safe winter".

While the EU tabled plans in May to phase out Russian fossil fuels and strengthen its security of supply, full energy independence from Moscow was not envisioned until 2027 at best. Now the EU needs to prepare for the "sizeable risk" of a complete halt of Russian gas supplies this year, the Commission warns.

The EU's security of gas supply regulation adopted in 2017 defines three national crisis levels: "Early Warning", "Alert" and "Emergency".

The EU is currently at the early warning stage, but on 20 July, it will move to the alert stage, the document says. This means "there is concrete, serious and reliable information that an event likely to result in significant deterioration of the gas supply situation may occur and is likely to lead to the emergency level being triggered in several Member States."

Comment: This 'concrete' information that Europe would suffer gas shortages if it waged a proxy war on one of its primary suppliers was evidence even before the sanctions.

This situation requires instruments that reduce gas demand, increased daily monitoring and information, measures for industry to reduce demand, switching from gas to other fuels and obliging public buildings to limit heating to 19°C and cooling to 25°C unless not technically feasible.

Hungary on Wednesday (13 July) declared a "state of energy emergency", announcing it would halt gas exports to neighbouring countries in a move aimed at securing the country's energy supply amid dwindling gas deliveries from Russia.

Demand reduction plan

According to the draft policy document, the EU gas system has "more than compensated" for the 25 billion cubic metres (bcm) of reduced Russian gas imports, with 35 bcm of additional liquified natural gas and pipeline gas imported from elsewhere.

Comment: At significant cost to the consumer.

However, according to simulations by European gas transmission system operators (ENTSOG), a full disruption of Russian gas supplies would "likely result" in the EU falling short of its 80% storage target, possibly "as low as 65% to 71%", leading to a gap of 20 bcm during the winter.

This means several EU countries would risk "running very low by the end of winter," making it challenging to replenish supplies for the following year.

Comment: If that comes to pass it's highly likely societal unrest will already have begun in earnest.

To anticipate this, the Commission's proposed 'demand reduction plan' looks at cutting gas consumption by protected groups, like consumers and key services, as well as unprotected groups like industry. It also looks at more extreme curtailment measures if the situation becomes critical.

"Coordinated action now will be more cost-effective and less disruptive to our daily lives and to the economy than impromptu action later when gas supplies could be running low," reads the leaked draft.

Comment: So we might not have to wait until winter to see some of their more extreme measures.

'Protected' consumers urged to contribute as well

Under the 2017 Gas Security of Supply Regulation, vulnerable consumers who "do not have the means to ensure their own supply" are protected under EU law. This definition covers private households, essential social services and small businesses.

The regulation also introduced a solidarity mechanism whereby EU countries "must help each other to always guarantee gas supply to the most vulnerable consumers" even in severe gas supply situations.

Comment: Lockdowns proved that the EU establishment cares nothing for the vulnerable and is fine with them being imprisoned for nearly two years, and even for them to die early, and alone.

But while citizens are protected, the European Commission outlines gas-saving measures that can be taken to avoid curtailments in other sectors.

This includes "large savings" in heating by using gas saving campaigns targeted at households, including turning down thermostats by 1°C and mandating the reduced heating of public buildings, offices and commercial buildings to 19°C.

The European Commission also calls on EU countries to look at switching the fuel used for electricity production away from gas, including coal and nuclear power.

Comment: Some countries have already started, whilst others will feel rather begrudged having only recently shut down coal and nuclear plans.

In words seemingly aimed at Germany, it calls on EU countries to postpone their nuclear phase-out plans where technically feasible, saying these national decisions "need to take into account the impact on the security of supply on other Member States".

The EU executive admits that temporarily switching from gas to coal "may increase emissions" and that renewables remain the top priority. And it also highlights a temporary relaxation of industrial emission rules to grant more leeway to industry.

Turning to industry, the Commission lays out measures that countries can use to incentivise demand reduction while limiting damage to society and the economy.

Comment: Again, lockdowns proved that these people can't be trusted to 'limit damage' caused by their diktats.

These include auctions or tender systems to incentivise industrial consumers to reduce consumption, possibly at the cross-border level.

Other measures include "interruptible contracts", a flexibility measure with pre-determined financial compensation for gas volume reduction during disconnection and calling on companies to use contractual swaps to move production to regions less exposed to supply shortages.

Comment: Sounds a lot like rolling blackouts and rationing; can that really be considered a worthwhile solution to the problem? No word on lobbying governments to give up their diabolical proxy war on Russia?

Network operators have called for investments in liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure in order to prevent supply shortages as gas flows from Russia hit record lows ahead of a scheduled ten-day maintenance of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Comment: Apparently the correct infrastructure of handle LNG can take years to complete, and if the EU's other 'successes' are anything to go by, it'll take much longer than that.

Planning for disruption

After measures like this have been exhausted, EU countries "may need to start curtailing partially or fully specific consumer groups" identified in the "emergency" stage of their national crisis plans.

Prioritisation of sectors is likely to differ between EU countries, but "it is advisable, to include the impact on health, food, safety and environment, security, and defence in their national prioritisation," the leaked document says.

The demand reduction plan gives guidance to governments on how to determine which sectors to prioritise, with four considerations:
  • "Societal criticality": how important the sector or product is to society, particularly when it comes to health, safety, environment and security.
  • "Cross-border supply chains": to what extent the product is part of cross-border supply chains and would disrupt the smooth provision of essential societal services at the EU level.
  • "Substitution and reduction possibilities": whether fossil gas can be replaced or energy savings measures can be used.
  • "Damage to installations": what damage could be caused to industrial tools in the case of a temporary shut down and the cost of repair. This particularly looks at sectors that need to run continuously, like parts of the medical industry, pharmaceuticals, chemical processes, glass and steel.
One way of prioritising could be to look at the product level, rather than the sector. For instance, not all glass production would be prioritised, but glass for food containers, vials and syringes and renewable infrastructure might be, the document suggests.

The policy documents to he presented on Wednesday will help coordinate measures taken by EU countries in the event of a full-blown gas crisis. But industry sources contacted by EURACTIV say these are just guidelines. The real test will be whether governments will implement them and uphold the EU single market, they caution.