Jan Fleischhauer: Germany, Russia & Energy Security

  • Date: 14/03/14
  • Jan Fleischhauer, Spiegel online

The Crimean crisis is forcing Germany to reconsider its green energy transition

It’s not particularly wise to make oneself dependent on someone you think to be a despot. Even more stupid is to threaten a despot after first giving him the opportunity to harm you significantly. This is the situation in which German policy finds itself. As the Chancellor threatens the Russian President with sanctions, she must hope that he will not strike back with his own boycott.

Putin’s weapon is our energy dependence. Nearly 40 percent of natural gas imports is sourced from the country that we now would like to change back, by threats of punishment, from a rogue state into a moderate dictatorship. Until now it was always claimed that the Russians would never dare to block natural gas delivery because they could not afford to do so. You will no longer be able to rely on it in the future. In the last couple of weeks Putin has proven beyond doubt that he reacted quite differently to what is expected in the west from a head of state.

It is futile to argue about how we got into this mess. First the Social Democrats mistook the nature of the new partner in the East, then the Christian Democrats exacerbated the dependency with the decision to prematurely shut down of all nuclear power plants.

Right now, gas storage is filled to 60 percent, which is enough over the summer. But when winter approaches, we will only have enough for one month, and after that it gets pretty cold even in Germany. In contrast to oil, the supply of natural gas is not that easy to replace so fast and is rather expensive.

As things stand, the federal government has three choices: It signals to the Russian President that the government isn’t really serious about sanctions. It gambles on a gas war in the hope that Putin loses his nerve. Or Germany looks for alternatives.

Transformation into a post-industrial society

In fact, Germany is in the fortunate position to have its own natural gas, in astonishing quantity as it were. According to official estimates, up to 2.3 trillion cubic meters of recoverable shale gas are deposited underground, the most in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. This amount would be enough to cover the consumption of the Federal Republic of Germany for about 20 years. Unfortunately, we have decided to suspend shale development because there are, as with any technology, also risks with shale extraction.

In Lower Saxony, drilling for natural gas has been going on for 50 years, without bothering anyone. In the 1980s almost a quarter of natural gas usage came from our own sources. The special thing about fracking, as it is practised today, is that it makes it possible to develop shale deposits in rock layers that are so dense that it was not viable to do so before. [...]

We read now in numerous comments that Germany’s green energy revolution must be driven further even faster to escape the dependence on Russia. Only dreamers (or members of the Green parliamentary party) may believe that an industrial country like Germany can operate solely on solar and wind for the foreseeable future. But maybe it’s exactly just what they want: The transformation of Germany into a post-industrial society. Once you have achieved that, no gas, nor coal or nuclear power is needed.

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