Threatened Gas Supplies Lead to Decisive Steps in Europe

The beginning of the war in Ukraine overlapped with the annual seasonal increase in gas consumption and the diminishing amount of gas in storage. Could a lack of supply of this valuable natural resource mean an unusually cold winter for millions of Europeans?

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REHDEN GERMANY
Countries in the Three Seas region are seeking to reduce dependence on Russian energy imports of oil and gas as quickly as possible. Photo David Hecker / Getty Images

The minimum level of replenishing gas storage facilities during spring, coupled with anxiety related to future supplies, especially from the East, resulted in some significant decisions in Europe countries. In this case, one of the most important elements hinges on the refilling of storage facilities. These efforts are mainly intended to guarantee uninterrupted gas supplies for consumers during the coming winter in Europe.

The role of gas storage in the overall gas consumption

The basic function of gas storage facilities is to balance the supply and off-take of gas by storing surplus gas in periods of reduced demand and releasing it in situations of increased demand for this fuel. Gas consumption is particularly intensified during winter when a large part of Europe heats with gas. The elevated levels of gas usage are not only due to domestic use but also because of CHP plants with district heating networks in cities.

Seasonal increases in gas usage result in a dwindling amount of available gas levels in storage facilities.

These levels reach their lowest points during the spring and are then gradually replenished in preparation for the following winter. This trend is easily noticeable on the charts below, divided by years and months. Note that in some countries, 2020 deviated from the average filling levels due to the pandemic, though seasonality was still a factor.

Gas supply problems from the East

Minimum filling overlapped with interruptions or complete shutdowns of gas supplies from Russia, plus anxiety about future supplies, especially in winter, led many countries to increase the speed with which they are filling their storage facilities. The shock of the effects of the war has also moved the discussion to a higher European level, where the EU is proceeding to oblige countries to fill up gas storage facilities before the winter season to a minimum of 90%.

It did not take long for the countries most dependent on supplies from the East to react. The average percentage level of filling in these countries began to increase significantly since the beginning of the war in Ukraine compared to previous years. Germany owns the most storage, with a capacity estimated at over 230 TWh. In comparison, this is equal to the total storage capacities of Poland, Czechia, Austria, and Hungary combined.

The massive German gas storage system was refilled by about 20% in just two months. However, it turns out that the fastest gas storage replenishment has been observed in Poland, which is currently over 90% full. Among the larger gas storage systems in Central European countries, Czechia and Austria have also recorded significant growth.

The trend of filling storage has also intensified in the Netherlands, but this should not be surprising for other reasons as well – one of which being that the above-mentioned countries firmly reject the proposal to pay for gas in rubles. After the most recent talks in the European Parliament, some concessions in paying in rubles are supported by Germany and France.

However, this does not change the fact that filling European gas storage facilities before winter from other sources will be crucial, but also not easy and probably more expensive compared to previous years.

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