Issue of the Week: Environment

Where Will Germany Get Its Energy in the Future?, Der Spiegel, Berlin, August 2022


It is quite possible that the number one issue in Berlin when we were there to film and research the status of Ukrainian refugees and activists, and take the measure of the impact of the Russian aggression in Ukraine from the effective capital of Europe–was energy.

And still is.

Energy is what fuels the war (pun intended) in supplying needed finances to Russia. Ironically by selling energy to NATO countries dependent on Russian gas and oil, especially Germany, the largest economy in the EU, which is the third largest economy in the world after the US and China. Germany and the EU have taken some steps to start cutting off dependence on Russian oil, but not on gas in any meaningful way, the main source of energy for Germany and much of Europe.

The resulting push to increase production and obtain these energy sources elsewhere is also pushing renewable energy to a more serious level.

A perfect irony, perfect opportunity, or perfect storm.

The outcome, for ongoing support for Ukraine by the European public and governments, therefore the degree of likelihood of democracy overcoming against autocracy, related among other global issues to World War Three happnening or being avoided for numerous reasons, and last but not least, the impact on climate change, are all at stake.

Yet it’s remarkable how little is understood about how the energy dynamcis in this situation are interacting worldwide, and what they tell us about all energy issues worldwide.

Der Spiegel recently provided the best primer we’ve seen.

Here it is:

“Where Will Germany Get Its Energy in the Future?”

By Monika Bolliger, Markus Brauck, Alexander Demling, Claus Hecking, Isabell Hülsen, Michael Sauga und Gerald Traufetter. Berlin, August 2022

Germany must not only free itself from Russian gas, but from fossil fuels altogether. Where will those future energies come from?
The Algerian Hassi R'Mel gas plant: Not exactly an investor's paradise
The Algerian Hassi R’Mel gas plant: Not exactly an investor’s paradiseFoto: Youcef Krache / DER SPIEGEL

Algeria would be perfect. At least in theory. It’s practically around the corner, it has enormous gas reserves, and there are even pipelines to Spain and Italy. The country could be the winner of the energy crisis that has gripped Europe. All it would have to do is increase production, and everyone would be happy: the Algerians, who would profit from the high prices and, of course, the Europeans – and the Germans in particular, who would finally become a little less dependent  on Russian natural gas.

Located in the reddish-brown desert, the Hassi R’Mel gas plant is gigantic. It’s one of the largest in Africa – a monster of 11,000 tons of steel, 36,760 cubic meters (1,300,000 cubic feet) of concrete and 25,000 tons of pipes. The fuel is transported via pipelines to the Mediterranean coast and from there to Italy, Spain and Portugal. Just under 13 percent of European natural gas imports come from Algeria. A new reservoir has also just been discovered near Hassi R’Mel, from which gas is expected to be produced as early as November. According to estimates, half of Algeria’s fields haven’t even been developed yet.

Algeria could serve as a building block of Germany’s new energy strategy in two respects. For one, it could end dependence on Russian gas. Secondly, the gas could one day be replaced by green hydrogen produced from solar energy. This two-pronged approach would have to be brought together to satisfy the continent’s enormous hunger for energy, especially from German industry. Because this much is clear, even if one day there is a wind turbine on every field and a solar system on every roof: Germany will remain an energy-importing country. Some 46 billion cubic meters of gas need to be replaced, an amount of energy that could be used to heat around 20 million single-family homes for a year.

But Loucif Youcef is hesitating. He has worked at Hassi R’Mel for 32 years. As a young man, he disassembled turbines. Today, he runs the entire operation. Youcef refuses to be pinned down as to whether and how much his country could increase production. “We supply according to demand, and there is still plenty of capacity,” he says, cryptically.

There’s reason for his caution. An increase in production would require longer-term investments. And the gas that can be produced in the short term has already been promised to Italy. If Germany wanted to be supplied by Algeria, it would have to conclude long-term contracts to make the investment worthwhile. Such deals have hardly made sense in recent years, as cheap gas from Russia was filling up European storage facilities.