A familiar sight has vanished from the nighttime skyline in Cologne. The city's cathedral, the most-visited tourist attraction in Germany, is no longer illuminated at night. The move is one of the most visible signs that a massive energy crunch is looming due as supplies from Russia dwindle because of its invasion of Ukraine.
"There is no reason to panic yet, but we also have to prepare for an acute emergency," said Andrea Blome, who is in charge of Cologne's official energy crisis team.
"Of course, we are now saving electricity above all else, because heat is not quite as much in demand in the hot summer. So now we are focusing on lighting: the soccer stadium is included, the cathedral is included, and the historic City Hall and the Rhine bridges are included. All of their lighting is switched off at 11:00 in the evening," she said.
The city is now turning off the lights at night on more than 130 public buildings, and the street lights will also be dimmed from 11 pm onwards. Cologne is cutting back in order to reduce energy consumption by the planned 15% — a regulation stipulated by the European Union.
Germans taking shorter showers, cooking less
On Monday, German consumers learned how much extra they will have to pay for gas in the winter months. The winter gas surcharge, which will come into effect in October for German households and businesses, was set at 2.4 euro cents per kilowatt hour. Economy Minister Robert Habeck has estimated that the levy will end up costing "several hundred euros per household" annually.
Two months ago, Habeck warned that Germany was facing a tough fall and winter. He appealed to the public to bathe less, shower for only five minutes, and to cut the use of air conditioners altogether.
Alexander Zeeh, managing director of plumbing equipment giant Grohe Germany, told DW that demand for water-saving appliances has risen significantly in recent weeks. Particularly, he said, for shower heads and sinks.
Surveys show that Germans have understood the message: In solidarity with Ukraine, but mostly to protect their own wallets. People across the country are already taking shorter, colder showers, restricting the energy consumption of their PCs and phones, and replacing cooked dinners with cold snacks.
Desperately sought: energy consultants
Right now, the most sought-after people in all of Germany seem to be energy consultants. Celia Schütze is one of the country's 13,000 such consultants, having set up the Bonn Energy Agency 10 years ago and now acting as its managing director.
In the first quarter of 2022, she said, the agency had a 70% higher volume of inquiries than usual, after which it could no longer keep on top of them. They have long since switched from one-to-one consultations to group appointments in which they present the basics of photovoltaics, advise on insulation in buildings, and explain everything about heat pumps. As a general rule, there's always at least a two-month waiting list.
Schütze said that "partly there is a feeling of helplessness. Many people have no idea at first where their biggest consumption is. They don't know where to start. Of course, many people have also thought for a long time that their gas heating is modern and efficient. But that's not true at all. Because every gas heating system is also using fossil fuels."
Energy-saving opportunities in every home
Schütze recounts with a laugh a cartoon she saw the other day: a crowd of people standing outside a door seemingly waiting for a VIP, a celebrity, to step over the threshold in a moment. Finally, it's an energy consultant who appears, with appointments still available. But the satire highlights a serious issue, namely, that there is now a shortage of energy experts on all fronts.
For Schütze, her first recommendation to individuals is to look at anything they don't use every day that may still be consuming energy. Next, take simple steps such as "turning down the heating by just one degree, which saves six percent of energy usage."
Climate neutrality goals should be front and center
The long-term goal, says Celia Schütze, in all her consultations, is climate neutrality. Bonn, like many other cities, has declared a goal of being carbon neutral by 2035. In other words, to move away from coal, oil, and away from gas. Can all of Germany do the same?
Asked what she would say to Energy Minister Robert Habeck, who has turned back to coal after a planned phaseout, Schütze responded: "I would like to see more emphasis on insulation and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, the funding conditions for building renovations, of all things, have just been worsened. That is regrettable. After all, renovation is a very good opportunity for installing and operating heat pumps efficiently. And it would make sense to provide more institutional support for this kind of advice centers, be it the regional energy agencies or the consumer centers."
This article was originally written in German.
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