Germany ahead of schedule for natural gas supplies

European authorities are trying to fill underground storage with gas supplies to give households enough fuel to keep their homes warm in winter.

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Germany’s natural gas inventories surpassed a fill level of more than 75% this month, two weeks ahead of schedule, as Europe̵[ads1]7;s biggest economy struggles to prepare for the coming winter.

The latest data compiled by industry group Gas Infrastructure Europe shows that Germany’s gas storages are just over 77% full.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government originally planned for gas storage levels to reach 75% by 1 September. The next federally mandated targets are 85% by October 1st and 95% by November 1st.

European authorities are scrambling to fill underground storage facilities with natural gas supplies to have enough fuel to keep homes warm in the coming months.

Russia has drastically reduced natural gas supplies to Europe in recent weeks, with flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany currently operating at just 20% of contracted volumes.

Moscow blames faulty and delayed equipment. Germany, however, views the supply cut as a political maneuver designed to sow European uncertainty and raise energy prices amid the Kremlin’s crackdown on Ukraine.

Even if Germany gets through the winter, the problem could come to spring next year, so the uncertainty is there and the companies are worried.

Marcel Fratzscher

President of DIW

“Germany developed a business model that was largely based on dependence on cheap Russian gas and thus also a dependence on a president who ignores international law [and] to whom liberal democracy and its values ​​are declared enemies,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said at a press conference on Monday, according to a translation. “This model has failed and it will not return.”

His comments came as Germany’s gas market operator, Trading Hub Europe, announced that households across the country would have to pay nearly 500 euros ($507.3) more per year for gas.

The new tax is designed to help utilities cover the costs of replacing Russian supplies, although Germany’s government has faced calls to provide further relief to the public.

“All measures, and this is undisputed, have a price,” Habeck said. “All measures have consequences and some of them are also orders, but they mean that we are less exposed to blackmail and that we can decide on our energy supply independently of Russia.”

“Uncertainty is poison”

Europe’s race to save enough gas to get through the colder months comes at a time of soaring prices. The rise in energy costs is driving up household bills, pushing inflation to its highest level in decades and squeezing people’s purchasing power.

Until recently, Germany bought more than half of its gas from Russia. And the government is now scrambling to secure winter gas supplies amid fears that Moscow could soon turn off the taps entirely.

“I think the chances are quite good that Germany will get 90% storage capacity by the beginning of winter, but it is still not sufficient to really avoid gas shortages,” Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) ), told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Tuesday.

“Even if Germany gets through the winter, the problem could come to spring next year, so the uncertainty is there and companies are worried,” Fratzscher said.

“The uncertainty is poison for the economy. Companies investing less, consumers consuming less – and so the result is that we see a massive slowdown in the German economy,” he added.

“Gas storage is not enough”

RWE Chief Financial Officer Michael Muller told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche on August 11 that the company’s gas storage levels were above 85%.

Muller said the Essen-headquartered company, one of Germany’s biggest energy suppliers, was “well on its way” to meet the government’s target by November.

Analysts told CNBC that Germany has been able to quickly replenish its gas reserves in recent weeks due to a number of factors. These include strong supply from Norway and other European countries, falling demand due to soaring energy prices, companies switching from gas to other types of fuel, and the government providing more than 15 billion euros in credit lines to fill up storage facilities.

“Of course, if you spend a lot of money, it’s relatively easy to fill the warehouse,” Andreas Schroeder, head of energy analysis at ICIS, a commodity intelligence service, told CNBC by phone.

If the German government “wants to see this as a success, fine. We’ll see,” Schroeder said. “But Germany is still no better off than other countries, like France or Italy. They have filled up the stock more without paying the huge subsidies.”

One reason Germany has found itself at a “strategic disadvantage” compared to other major European economies, Schroeder said, is that Germany’s gas storage had previously been partly owned by Gazprom-controlled facilities.

Germany’s natural gas storage facility in Rehden is seen as crucial to the country’s energy security.

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This was the case with Germany’s huge storage facility in Rehden, for example, an area critical to the country’s energy security.

“In other countries, [such as] France and Italy, you didn’t have this problem in the first place,” Schroeder said, adding that he remains skeptical that Germany will be able to meet the “quite ambitious” target of 95% storage levels by November.

“Gas storage is not enough. You also need to reduce demand,” Schroeder said.

The European Union agreed last month to reduce its use of natural gas to offset the prospect of further Russian supply cuts. The draft law is designed to reduce demand for gas by 15% from August to March with voluntary measures.

However, mandatory cuts will be triggered for the 27-nation bloc if there are not enough savings.

What about other EU countries?

Zongqiang Luo, gas analyst at energy consultancy Rystad Energy, told CNBC that Germany’s position as the biggest consumer of natural gas in Europe means it is difficult to compare Berlin’s storage levels with other European countries.

Luo said only France, Spain and Italy were comparable in terms of the scale of their gas consumption, but France’s reliance on nuclear power generation, Spain’s use of LNG import terminals and Spain and Italy’s reliance on Algerian gas exports mean they all differ from Germany .

France’s gas reserves were last seen at nearly 87% full, according to GIE, while Spain’s and Italy’s gas reserves were at about 81% and 77% respectively.

“So, I would say compared to Germany’s storage plan with these three countries, Italy, France and Spain, I would say that so far Germany has done a good job,” Luo said.

“But let’s see how they are going to meet the target for the next two months,” he said. “This will be very, very critical for the coming winter.”

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