So Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck had not imagined this: It is his declared goal that in future Germany will be heated with electricity instead of gas and oil. But what is happening in Germany these days is not in the interests of the Greens at all. Because people aren’t just trying to get one of Habeck’s preferred heat pumps – along with a craftsman to install it. In far larger numbers, they try to get hold of a fan heater in hardware stores or online retailers. The devices are now sold out in many stores. In view of the low gas supplies from Russia and the government’s energy-saving plans, there is apparently a great deal of concern about having to freeze in winter.
There are no statistics on how many fan heaters have been sold throughout Germany in the past few weeks. But the figures from the Hornbach DIY chain give an insight: According to the company, it sold twice as many fan heaters in the period from January to June as in the same period last year. A spokesman reports that demand has been increasing significantly since the beginning of July. “If things continue like this, by the end of the month we will be up to 500 percent higher than in July of the previous year.”
Danger of overloading the power grids
Energy experts are watching this development with concern. “If millions of fan heaters are turned on on cold winter evenings, it can be dangerous for the power grid,” says Marco Wünsch, head of the electricity department at the analysis company Prognos. “Even if only 10 percent of gas households also heat with electricity, that would drive up the peak load in the network significantly.” Of these, 10 percent are 2 million apartments. Fan heaters have an average power of 2000 watts. To heat two small rooms or a larger one, you need two of them. In the sample calculation, 8,000 megawatts of additional electricity would be required on the winter evening in question. “Eight additional gigawatts with a normal maximum load of 85 gigawatts: That’s not without it,” says Wünsch. Prognos is the institute that last year forecast the development of electricity demand up to 2030 for the Federal Ministry of Economics.
The plan B of many citizens for the winter is also driving the energy suppliers. “A large-scale and intensive use of fan heaters would lead to an extreme load on the power grids, especially at the lower voltage levels,” warns a spokesman for Stadtwerke München. In some areas, this could lead to overload. A spokeswoman for the energy supplier EnBW sounds similar: In the worst case, there could be “local overloading of the local power grid and possibly power failures,” she says. Especially in regions where the proportion of households with gas heating is high, customers should only use electric heaters “moderately”. According to the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW), the federal state with the highest proportion of gas heating systems is Lower Saxony. 63 percent of the apartments there are heated in this way. The Saarland is least affected by the gas crisis with a share of 30 percent.
At the beginning of last week, the Federal Ministry of Economics asked the transmission system operators to subject the electricity grid to another stress test. It should be clarified whether it also works under difficult conditions. One of the assumptions that the ministry would like to have checked is an increased demand at certain times, i.e. a higher peak load. The ministry leaves open whether the run on the fan heaters led to this test order. A spokeswoman says there could be various reasons for higher electricity demand. The pre-crisis level is assumed for the total electricity consumption in the stress test.
The FDP is accommodating the debate. The Liberals have been pushing for weeks not to shut down the three nuclear power plants still in operation in Germany at the end of the year as planned, but to use them at least in so-called extended operation for a few more months. When Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) was asked about the future of the reactor in connection with the Uniper rescue on Friday, he referred to the stress test and the results that should be available soon. “Let’s take a look at them.” For the Greens, the issue is a sensitive one. After the construction of liquid gas terminals and the start-up of coal-fired power plants, Habeck does not want to expect his party to use nuclear power for any longer.
“Private households are protected according to EU regulations and enjoy priority in the gas supply,” emphasizes Julia Verlinden, deputy leader of the Greens in the Bundestag. “No one needs to worry about freezing in winter.” She expressly advises against using fan heaters. These are not efficient, consume more energy than classic heaters and are “extremely expensive” to use. The comparison portal Verivox shares this assessment. It compared the operating costs of electrically operated oil radiators with those of gas heating. The conclusion is unequivocal: “Radiators are not suitable as gas substitutes.” The price of gas would have to more than double from its current high level for the operation of a radiator to be worthwhile on the bottom line.