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EU to cut down gas use in light of possible ‘sudden supply disruption’

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The European Commission is expected to ask EU countries next week to reduce their use of gas, ahead of possible further cuts to the Russian supply.

The European Commission is expected to ask member countries to reduce the bloc's demand for gas in light of the continued fall in Russian supplies, according to a leaked draft. 

The plan, due to be published on 20 July, will suggest countries provide financial incentives for companies to cut gas use, or switch to alternative fuels, and roll out information campaigns to nudge consumers to use less heating and cooling. In addition, the European Commission is also expected to ask countries to reduce the heating and cooling of public buildings and offices in light of a “likely deterioration of gas supply outlook”. 

Over the past few months, gas supplies from Russia have declined in a “deliberate attempt to use energy as a political weapon,” the draft says, a situation that is currently driving an increase in energy prices and raising concerns about energy supplies for winter.

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU relied on Russia for 40 per cent of its gas. Today, flows from Russia are below 30 per cent of the 2016-2021 average, the draft says.

Russian gas supplies to the Baltic States, Poland, Bulgaria and Finland have already stopped, while deliveries to Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy have been significantly reduced and flows through Nord Stream 1, the largest import route to the EU, have been cut by 60 per cent.

Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund chief warned that further drops in Russian gas deliveries could plunge European economies into recession, but there are currently no signs of the situation changing. 

“There is no reason to believe this pattern will change. Rather, a number of signals, including the latest decision to reduce further supply to Italy, point to a likely deterioration of gas supply outlook,” the Commission says in a new policy document, seen by EURACTIV.

In order to build up a supply buffer for winter, when heating demand peaks, the EU has decided to take action now. 

The plan drafted by the European Commission will recommend that public buildings be heated to no more than 19°C and cooled by air conditioning units set no lower than 25°C as part of a series of measures Brussels is investigating to cut the EU's gas consumption by 25-60billion cubic metres per year.

"Energy saved during the summer is energy that can be used in winter," the commission points out in the document.

The draft proposal calculates that 11bn m3 of gas could be directly saved from reducing excessive heating and cooling, and between four and 40bn m3 via reduced electricity demand. Another 10-11 bn m3 could be saved from the use by industries, which have already slowed production due to soaring prices.

The document urges EU governments, where this is "technically feasible and enforceable" to introduce binding limits on heating and cooling in "public buildings, offices, commercial buildings (in particular large buildings)... and open spaces like outdoor terraces".

"The role of public authorities in leading by example and as an important gas consumer – 30 per cent of the energy consumption - is key in this regard," the document states.

Households are "protected customers" under EU law, meaning they would be the last group affected by a situation where gas had to be rationed. Instead, the document focuses on strategies to reduce the gas consumption of power stations and industries that use large amounts of gas.

However, the document does encourage countries to identify the order in which industries would be forced to close in a supply emergency. 

"It would be significantly less costly to moderately reduce natural gas demand for a longer period of time, starting earlier, than having to drastically curtail demand suddenly and without proper preparation," it explains.

If there is a total cut in Russian gas supply from July onwards, EU states might only be able to replenish 65-71 per cent of their gas reserves per cent before winter, the commission said, quoting forecasts by European gas transmission system operators (ENTSOG).

The energy-saving proposals are due to be discussed by EU energy ministers at a meeting in Brussels on 26 July.

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