Germany warms up to LNG as energy options diminish
WILHELMSHAVEN, Germany — When a major energy company wanted to bring liquefied natural gas to Germany through the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven three years ago, the proposal hit a brick wall. The company could not find enough customers, the government offered only tepid support, and residents denounced the scheme as a threat to a local apple orchard.
Now steel pipes are being rammed into the sea floor to prepare for the arrival of a nearly 1,000-foot-long LNG processing vessel. Nearby, bulldozers are digging along the perimeter of a forest to clear the way for a new 20-mile pipeline to connect to Germany’s gas grid.
The hope is for gas to start arriving before the end of winter, Uniper said.
Germany is in a race to bring in more natural gas from new sources as Russia slowly chokes the amount of fuel it provides to Europe’s largest economy, a punishment for opposing the invasion of Ukraine.
The stakes are escalating as officials in Berlin prepare for potential gas rationing and an economic downturn if deliveries are ultimately cut off.
LNG is the most readily available fuel to make up for the shortfall. Long considered an overpriced alternative to reliable flows via pipeline from Siberia, LNG almost overnight has become the answer to Germany’s overreliance on a single supplier, and a hope of staying warm over the winter.
When Berlin called for companies to help increase supplies of the energy, said Holger Kreetz, Uniper’s chief operating officer for asset management, all his company had to do was pull the plans out of the drawer.
“This is an important project that will help us get through this crisis,” Kreetz said. “It also highlights what is possible when the political will is there.”
Energy ministers from the European Union agreed Tuesday to call on all 27 member nations to voluntarily cut their natural gas consumption by 15% until spring. Germany is targeting even deeper cuts and at the same time has set aside $2.55 billion to rent four LNG processing vessels, including the one destined for Wilhelmshaven.
Unlike the rest of Europe, which boasts roughly two dozen terminals to receive liquefied natural gas, Germany resisted building LNG facilities for decades, arguing that chilled natural gas arriving by ship was too expensive.
Since Russia began curtailing gas deliveries to Europe, Germany has decided it needs its own fleet of floating terminals. These installations are essentially ships with apparatus to take the chilled liquefied gas from seagoing tankers, warm it back into a vapor and move it onshore.
Recent approval granted to the other northwestern ports, in Brunsbuttel and Stade, have created a competition for which provider can have the first terminal up and running before winter is over.
The great advantage of LNG is that it can be transported on ships — chilled to minus 260 degrees, natural gas reduces into a liquid that takes up only 1/600 of its volume as a gas.