Shorter showers, slower driving and an Eiffel Tower blackout: How Europe plans to cut gas usage

Oil & Gas

From cutting down on shower time, driving slower and fining shopkeepers for not closing their doors, Europeans are embarking on a target of reducing energy usage in time for winter, and some citizens have taken to social media to share their experiences.

For example, German Christopher Hipp offered tips on Twitter on how to defrost a freezer, saying that more electricity is saved the more frost-free the kitchen device is.

Cindy, who lives in the Netherlands, shared her attempts at trying to shower within a 5 minute time target — failing with 6 minutes and 21 seconds. “It took 48 seconds for the shower to get hot,” she tweeted.

Ruud Vuik and his daughter, who also reside in the Netherlands, tried the same feat by using a blue water droplet-shaped shower timer for a week, which starts at 5 minutes before trickling away to a blaring alarm.

A customer browses alcoholic beverages inside a fridge at Exale Brewing and Taproom in East London on August 19, 2022. The European Commission in July has agreed on a voluntary target to cut gas use by 15% by 2023, compared to what the average consumption was from 2016 to 2021.
Hollie Adams | Afp | Getty Images

These targets are part of EU’s wider effort to cut natural gas demand this winter, with an arsenal of methods of their own choosing.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, in July agreed on a voluntary target to cut gas use by 15% until March 2023, compared to what the average consumption was from 2016 to 2021.

These are what some of the EU governments have recommended: 

France

President Emmanuel Macron called for a gas use reduction of 10%, and warned that forced energy savings will be on the table if voluntary efforts prove to be insufficient. Russian gas imports account for 15% of France’s gas consumption, making it less reliant on Russia than most of its EU peers.

  • Lights from the iconic Eiffel Tower will switch off about an hour earlier at 11.45 p.m., Paris’ mayor announced on September 13.
  • Shop owners who leave the doors of air-conditioned stores open will be fined 750 euros ($751).
  • Illuminated ads will be banned from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. 

Germany

Germany has been the most exposed to Russian gas supply cuts. Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck released a statement introducing a slew of measures which came into effect on Sept. 2 in the hope of reducing gas usage by around 2%.

  • Public buildings are heated to a maximum of 19 degrees Celsius.
  • Shopfronts banned from being illuminated at night.
  • A ban on heating private swimming pools.

Austria

Austria is also heavily reliant on Russian gas, obtaining over 80% from Moscow in prior years. Last week, Austria’s climate department launched an energy-saving campaign dubbed “Mission 11,” with these recommendations:

  • Drive slower to save energy — at a suggested speed limit of 100km/h
  • Regularly defrosting a freezer.
  • Reduce shower time.

Spain

While Spain is not as dependent as other EU members on Russian gas, which accounted for 14.5% of its imports, Spain’s Parliament has agreed to an 8% reduction in gas use.

  • Air conditioning temperatures in most public buildings and businesses must not be set below 27 degrees Celsius in the summer. And heating should not be above 19 degrees Celsius during winter.
  • Doors of air-conditioned shops to be closed.
  • No night-time lighting of shop exteriors or public monuments.

Finland

While 75% of Finland’s gas supply was made up of Russian imports, the country is not as susceptible to Moscow’s vagaries. Natural gas accounts for less than 6% of total energy consumption in Finland. In the last week of August, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment announced a campaign titled “A degree lower,” which aims at getting 75% of Finns to reduce their own energy consumption by: 

  • Reducing the household temperature on a thermostat.
  • Use fewer electronics, fewer light sources.
  • Limit showers to 5 minutes.

Italy

Italy imported close to 40% of its gas from Russia last year. Under an initiative by the Italian Ecological Transition Ministry, the country is targeting a reduction in gas consumption of 7% (5.3 billion cubic meters) by March:

  • Thermostat in industrial buildings to be lowered by one degree to 17 degrees Celsius.
  • Residential blocks’ thermostat temperatures to be regulated at 19 degrees Celsius.
  • Radiators to be turned off for at least one hour per day.

Netherlands

The Dutch government launched a campaign in April in a bid to reduce reliance on Russian gas, which comprises about 12.5% of the Netherlands’ gas use.

  • Taking 5 minute showers.
  • Turn down central heating.

Enough for the winter?

Some reports estimate that if Europe can cut its gas use by 15% to March 2023, the region would be able to cope with winter despite limited supplies and soaring energy prices. 

“We’re already there … savings this month have already surpassed the 15% target,” said senior energy strategist from Goldman Sachs, Samantha Dart.

Facilities of the Fluxys gas storage station in Loenhout, Belgium. The European Commission in July has agreed on a voluntary target to cut gas use by 15% by 2023, compared to what the average consumption was from 2016 to 2021.
Kenzo Tribouillard | Afp | Getty Images

She added that northwestern Europe’s estimated August gas consumption was 13% below average.

“We believe this is more than enough savings to go through winter without blackouts or a heating crisis,” Dart said, assuming that the average winter weather scenario holds. 

Difficult, but not impossible

However, according to another analyst, that target looks ambitious, especially when the winter season starts. 

That period of time is where household consumption for heating “far exceeds industrial demand,” which is already down by 20-30% across most of Europe, said director of Eurasia Group, Henning Gloystein.

“Achieving the 15% reduction target vs business as usual will be difficult, but not impossible,” Gloystein told CNBC.

If Europe manages a sustained demand destruction and access to alternative gas supplies, a “severe rationing” can be avoided, Gloystein added.

A group of houses in Cercedilla, on 20 April, 2022 in Madrid, Spain when Madrid activated the Winter Inclement Plan for snow, rain and wind. A cold winter could make it difficult to achieve the demand reduction needed in Europe.
Rafael Bastante | Europa Press | Getty Images

He said that an “immediate reduction” in household consumption could come at the same time that most EU gas tariffs jump on Oct. 1, on top of aggressive media campaigns by governments.  

Possible winter recession

However, Henning cautioned that this will come at a price. 

“This will almost certainly come at the cost of an EU recession over the winter which will hit low-income households and small industries hardest,” he said.

A cold winter could also make it difficult to achieve the demand reduction needed, but also increase the likelihood of supply disruptions from Norway, where offshore rigs in the the North Sea have to be evacuated during storms, Henning said.

“If just one or two of the required measures don’t work out, the situation could become quite serious, pretty quickly.”

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