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Less Beer, Cold Water, and Dry Fountains? Germans Take It Slowly When It Comes to Energy Conservation

WorldLess Beer, Cold Water, and Dry Fountains? Germans Take It Slowly When It Comes to Energy Conservation

Wolfgang Hübschle hoped to lead a leisurely life in municipal administration, organising events such as Oktoberfests complete with lederhosen.

As a result, he’s now tasked with figuring out which traffic lights to turn off, how to reduce the temperature in workplaces and swimming pools, and, if necessary, shutting down Bavarian breweries.

This week, EU leaders agreed on a 15 percent reduction in natural gas consumption as a retaliation for Europe’s support for the Ukrainians, and municipal officials like Mr. Hübschle, the economic adviser to the provincial Bavarian city of Augsburg, find themselves at odds with Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin.

In Germany, Europe’s largest importer of Russian gas, that anxiety is especially pronounced. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, inexpensive Russian gas was a key component of Germany’s industrial might. A second pipeline from Russia was originally planned, but the conflict caused the project to be shelved.

Some German towns are offering financial incentives to reduce gas use, while others are dimming street lighting as part of a conservation campaign that is spreading throughout the country. Augsburg is currently leading the charge in this movement. However, these attempts have already spread outside Germany.

Cities and towns throughout Europe are experimenting with new approaches to helping residents reduce their reliance on electricity. In Barcelona, residents may have their houses’ energy efficiency assessed, while in Warsaw, heat pump replacements for fossil-burning stoves are subsidised. There are a dozen communities in the eastern French province of Meurthe-et-Moselle that are turning off their lamps at midnight.

To outmanoeuvre Mr. Putin, Mr. Hübschle finds himself attempting to fathom the thoughts of the strangely placed local politician.

Russia may be discouraged from attempting to shut off supplies this winter even if Europe just “gets by” with the existing lower gas delivery, Mr. Hübschle argues.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, warned that if he thinks he can harm the economies of Europe’s largest nations, he won’t hesitate to shut off gas supplies to them. As long as the pain isn’t unbearable, he’ll choose for the money over causing it.

EU consumption targets have sent a strong message, even if they are not yet legally binding, that Europe is not only willing to stand up to Mr. Putin, but that it is also concerned about the health of Europe’s economic system — especially in light of Germany’s role as the continent’s economic engine.

When Gazprom, which is controlled by the Kremlin and supplies Russia’s energy needs, cut the flow of Nord Stream 1 into Germany to barely 20% this week, it underscored the danger.

Most German houses are heated by gas, and a third of the nation uses gas for industrial purposes. If the next winter is unusually frigid, a cutoff would be quite painful.

Moscow’s ultimate ambitions, as well as the weather patterns of the future, are both uncertain. Economists are also debating whether a 3 percent or a 20 percent recession in Germany might result from a power outage.

When our best economists say they don’t know, how can I??” Herr Hübschle said the following.

However, he is aware of the fact that energy costs in Augsburg have already risen by 80%, amounting to almost 11 million euros. As a result, officials are striving to avoid passing these expenses on to the general population.

At least three fountains attached to the 800-year-old water management system, a UNESCO world heritage monument, have had their hours restricted by Augsburg Mayor Eva Weber, who even ordered their closure.

Germany’s economics minister, Robert Habeck, has been pressuring German cities for months, urging them to take action on climate change, including rebuilding coal-fired power plants to replace gas-fired ones and quickly developing infrastructure for liquefied natural gas (LNG).

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