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ENERGY

Why electric fan heaters in Germany could make the energy crisis worse

Hundreds of thousands of households in Germany have been stocking up on fan heaters to prepare for winter in the face of rising gas prices. But experts say over usage will worsen the situation.

Electric heaters in a hardware store in Munich.
Electric heaters in a hardware store in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

Why are people buying fan heaters?

The cost of heating a home in Germany with oil or gas has doubled in the past two years, according to a heating index published on Tuesday by the non-profit consulting company Co2online.

Due to the rising costs, people are looking for alternatives to heat their homes. And in the first half of this year alone, 600,000 electricity-powered fan heaters were snapped up in Germany, according to market research firm GfK.

But this way of heating could end up being more expensive for consumers – and lead to higher gas consumption than with gas heating, an analysis by strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman shows.

READ ALSO: German households see record hikes in heating costs 

What happens when there’s overuse of electric heaters?

If fan heaters were to be used by people in large numbers, utilities would have to generate much of the additional electricity in gas-fired power plants, according to the firm. The fan heaters would then exacerbate rather than alleviate the energy supply shortages. At worst, there would even be a threat of local power outages due to grid overload.

READ ALSO: Should I invest in an electric fan heater in Germany this winter?

The main problem is that fan heaters provide heat less efficiently than standard gas heaters, said Jörg Stäglich, head of the European Energy & Natural Resources Practice and global head of utilities at Oliver Wyman.

“Their use is therefore more expensive for households than conventional heating.”

To generate the same heat, he said a fan heater requires twice as much gas via a detour to produce electricity in gas-fired power plants as boilers that burn it directly.

“There’s a vicious circle looming,” Stäglich said. “If we have to use more gas for electricity generation, the amount of gas available in Germany will become even scarcer and the price of gas will rise.”

In a scenario where 30 to 50 percent of the 20 million German households with gas heating relied on fan heaters to keep their homes warm in winter or at least compensate for a lowered room temperature, the demand for electricity would increase by up to 25 percent at peak times, experts calculate.

Experts say that even with rocketing gas prices, the use of electric heaters isn’t justified. 

Although the price of electricity has not risen as dramatically as gas, it has still climbed significantly this year.

“That’s why electric heating is not recommended at all,” said Norbert Endres, energy consultant at the Bavarian consumer centre. 

Stäglich added that using fan heaters was “not economical, climate friendly or sensible”. 

Vocabulary 

Fan heater – (der) Heizlüfter

Gas consumption – (der) Gasverbrauch

Power cut – (der) Stromausfall

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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ENERGY

Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

Germany and Norway want to start a NATO-led alliance to protect critical underwater infrastructure, their leaders said on Wednesday, weeks after explosions hit two key gas pipelines in the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

 “We are in the process of asking the NATO Secretary General to set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a press conference in Berlin.

“We take the protection of our critical infrastructure very seriously and nobody should believe that attacks will remain without consequences,” he said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the alliance would be “an informal initiative to exchange between civilian and also military actors” with NATO providing “a centre, a coordination point”.

Underwater cables and pipelines were “arteries of the modern economy” and it was necessary to create “a coordinated joint effort to ensure security for this infrastructure”, he said.

Scholz said he and Store would propose the plan to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is due in Berlin for a security conference. The Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines off the Danish island of Bornholm were targeted by two huge explosions at the end of September.

The pipelines, which connect Russia to Germany, had been at the centre of geopolitical tensions as Moscow cut gas supplies to Europe in suspected
retaliation to Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Although they were not in operation when the leaks occurred, they both still contained gas which spewed up through the water and into the atmosphere.

Russia and Western countries, particularly the United States, have traded bitter barbs over who is responsible for the blasts.

Several European countries have since taken steps to increase security around critical infrastructure. 

The G7 interior ministers warned earlier this month at a meeting in Germany that the Nord Stream explosions had highlighted “the need to better protect our critical infrastructure”.

Norway has become Europe’s main gas supplier in the wake of the war in Ukraine, taking the place of Russia.

The Scandinavian country has a vast network of pipelines, stretching for almost 9,000 kilometres, linking it to the continent, which experts have said are at risk of sabotage.

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