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Sales of electric heaters soar in Germany amid winter gas crisis fears

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By Euronews
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Gas pipes over a German and Russian flag.
Gas pipes over a German and Russian flag.   -   Copyright  Credit: Reuters

Sales of electric heaters have surged as Germans prepare for a possible energy crisis this winter. 

Some 600,000 heaters were sold in Germany in the first six months of 2022, according to market research firm GFK -- a 35% increase from the same period last year.

But experts have warned against the idea, saying it's more expensive to use an electric heater and that their simultaneous use could cause power blackouts. 

"There has been a huge increase in sales of electric heaters in the last two months and the heaters [we] have on hand are running out," said Frank Doring, owner of the Eisen Doring electrical store in Berlin. 

"I can't comment on when suppliers will bring in new heaters," he added. "Because they are all already exhausted. This is a big problem." 

Germany is heavily reliant on Russian energy imports and Gazprom's repeated reductions of gas deliveries have raised fears that Russia may cut off supplies to try to gain political leverage over Europe, which has imposed wide-ranging sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.

"Everyone wants to buy an electric heater because if there is no gas, the house is cold," said Doring. 

Germans fear Russia will turn off the gas tap

In June, the country moved a step closer to rationing gas. It said Germany faces a “crisis” and warned that storage targets for the winter are at risk due to dwindling deliveries from Russia.

Berlin said then the target of having gas storage facilities filled to 90% capacity by December won’t be achievable without further measures.

"The situation is serious and winter will come," said economy minister Robert Habeck. “The reduction in gas supplies is an economic attack on us by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We will defend ourselves against this. But our country is going to have to go down a stony path now.”

Petra, one German looking for an electric heater at Doring's store, said he was worried about having to rely more on electricity if the gas supplies decreased or prices rose even further. 

"My fear is that there will be problems," Petra said. "If I don't have a heater and someone has health problems, at least a hot bath will be required. Maybe in the future, we will not be able to take a shower with hot water. That's why I urgently need an electric heater."

Germany to be '30% short' of gas, say experts

Gas prices have surged across Europe as Russia has cut supplies to the continent along the Nord Stream pipeline. Power prices rose 19% in Germany in the first week of July alone and have almost tripled this year, according to Bloomberg. 

Jason, a student in Germany, was also asked if he would buy an electric heater. 

"Not everyone can afford to buy it," he said. "But if you have the money, take it," he said.

Gas shipments to Germany through Nord Stream -- the country's key source of Russian gas -- have been significantly cut by Moscow, which it says is due to "technical reasons". 

But the German government says this is a "political decision" intended to influence the arm wrestling between Moscow and Western countries over the war in Ukraine.

"We will probably be 30% short of natural gas this winter," said oil and gas expert Thomas O'Donnel. "This means that not everyone will have access to gas and there will be rationing and distribution."

"Consumers will feel the impact," he said. "Already in Berlin or in Germany, we have been told that thermostats should be reduced from 22 degrees Celsius to 17, maybe lower."

It comes as other EU countries introduce measures to cut energy consumption and reduce their dependency on Russian gas. 

Brussels has asked all 27 member states to cut their gas consumption by 15% ahead of what is tipped to be a challenging winter.

A controversy was sparked in Spain on Tuesday when the government banned air conditioning from dropping below 27°C in a bid to slash energy consumption, while France has ordered air-conditioned shops to close their doors.

Experts warn against using electric heaters

Experts have told Euronews that the purchase of electric heaters could end up costing consumers dearly. On average, it costs three times as much to run a fan heater as a gas heater for the same amount of heat, and there is another problem: if too many of these devices are switched on at the same time, there is a risk of massive power outages.

That's according to Dr Martin Kleimaier, head of the electric power generation and storage division at the VDE Association, who said Germany's power supply was "not designed for a simultaneous additional load".

Additionally and in an unusual move, several trade associations -- who would normally promote the interests of electric heater manufacturers -- have warned consumers against buying electric heaters.