Officials in Germany are urging residents and businesses to start conserving energy, as the country faced a third day of reduced flows of natural gas from Russia, a critical energy supplier for Europe’s largest economy.
“The time to do this has arrived,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister, said in an urgent public appeal posted to Instagram late Wednesday. “Every kilowatt-hour helps in this situation.”
Mr. Habeck said the situation was serious, but insisted that supplies to Europe’s largest economy were assured. But the head of the country’s federal agency for monitoring gas and power networks warned that if Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, continued to curtail gas flows, the situation could become more dangerous once temperatures drop.
This comes as the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, along with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, arrived in Kyiv for talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Thursday.
For decades, Germany has depended on Russia as its main supplier for natural gas, which arrives to the country overland through a vast network of pipelines, many of them dating back to the Cold War era. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February caused Berlin to turn to the United States, Norway and the United Arab Emirates for natural gas, leading to a 20 percent drop in its imports from Russia.
Gazprom said on Wednesday that it would curtail natural gas supplies through a key pipeline to Germany by 60 percent, a day after announcing a 40 percent reduction. The pipeline, Nord Stream 1, carries gas directly from fields in Russia to Germany, which diverts some of the flow to other countries in Europe.
Gazprom has said the cuts were necessary because a turbine for a compressor station in northwestern Russia was sent for repairs and hadn’t returned in time.
Several other countries in Europe also reported reductions in gas flowing across their borders.
The Czech Republic’s main gas provider, CEZ, also reported that its supplies from Gazprom had been reduced by a similar amount as in Germany, also citing technical issues, Ladislav Kriz, a spokesman for the company, said on Thursday. Austria’s OMV energy company said that Gazprom had informed it of gas cuts, but declined to offer further details.
Gazprom’s supply to Italy fell 15 percent on Wednesday, and remained at that level on Thursday, the Italian energy company Eni said in a statement. Gazprom blamed the drop on problems at a plant which feeds the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Eni said.
With most Europeans not heating their homes during the summer, and air conditioning relatively rare, the situation is tolerable for now and officials in all four countries insisted that the drop in supply did not represent a threat.
But if Russia were to continue delivering 40 percent of previous gas flows over the course of several weeks, that could worsen, said Klaus Müller, who heads Germany’s federal agency responsible for gas, electricity and telecommunications.
“It is imperative that we fill the storage facilities now to get through the winter,” Mr. Müller told the Rheinische Post.
Mr. Müller and Mr. Habeck rejected Gazprom’s explanation of technical issues and suggested they were a pretext for Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s president, to drive up the price of natural gas in Europe. Gas prices have jumped 70 percent this week, reaching more than 140 euros a megawatt-hour on the TTF exchange Thursday.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
A far-reaching conflict. Russia’s invasion on Ukraine has had a ripple effect across the globe, adding to the stock market’s woes. The conflict has caused dizzying spikes in gas prices and product shortages, and has pushed Europe to reconsider its reliance on Russian energy sources.
“Yesterday we received notice that further amounts of gas were being reduced,” Mr. Habeck told Germans in the Instagram video, which had been viewed more than 141,000 times by midday Thursday. “That confirms what we have feared from the start: Putin is reducing the amount of gas. Not all in one go, but step by step.”
He pointed out similar behavior by Russia in recent months, pointing to Gazprom cutting off gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Denmark.
At the same time, he insisted that Germany was in a position to continue filling its gas reserves in preparation for winter. Storage levels have run chronically low in recent years, in part because Gazprom allowed them to dip in several important natural gas tanks that it owned in Germany.
The government passed a law earlier this year requiring owners of natural gas storage facilities to ensure they were 65 percent full by August each year, and 80 percent full by October, when the heating season starts.
Mr. Müller’s agency said on Wednesday that storage levels at German facilities are at 55 percent of capacity. Nevertheless, he called for the legally required temperature that landlords must ensure for rental properties to be dropped by two degrees, and for businesses to be offered incentives to reduce the amount of energy they consume.
“Gas is reaching Germany,” Mr. Habeck said. “We do not have a problem with supply, but the amounts need to be bought on the open market and it will be more expensive.”
Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.