By Yushu Chen and Galen Sher
A partial shutoff of Russian gas is already piling pressure on Germany’s economy. In July, we estimated that a complete shutoff of the remaining (40 percent of) Russian gas supplies would reduce gross domestic product by almost 3 percent next year and raise inflation significantly. The effects could be even worse if the winter is particularly cold.
Like other European Union member states, Germany has agreed to cut gas consumption by 15 percent between August 2022 and March 2023, to avoid gas shortages and spiraling prices. The country is already on track to achieve this target. As the chart below shows, gas consumption was already down by about 17 percent in May, 8 percent in June and 15 percent in July compared with averages of the past five years.
What caused this drop in gas consumption? Temperature is unlikely to be the main explanation. The number of “heating degree days” – a typical measure to forecast gas demand based on the number of cold days and the coldness of those days was similar in June and July to the same months in previous years.
Instead, the soaring cost of energy seems to have caused consumers to save gas. Large businesses are making especially severe cuts. Comparing June with the previous five years, gas prices for businesses were up by 267 percent, which is likely to account for their reductions in gas demand. Carmakers, for instance, say they are already cutting gas consumption by switching to renewable energy.
While gas saving helps build resilience ahead of winter, it comes with short-term costs: manufacturing and services activity contracted in July for the first time in two years, according to surveys of purchasing managers. The IMF revised down projections for Germany’s economic growth to 1.2 percent in 2022 and 0.8 percent in 2023 due in large part to higher energy costs.
What could help further
So far, households have made only a small contribution to gas savings because most have contracts with suppliers that fix the gas price for about a year though this might change soon. As part of a package of measures to enhance energy security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Federal Cabinet on August 4 approved a temporary levy that will encourage gas savings by raising prices paid by households (and businesses) from October. The government has indicated an intention to accompany the levy with additional relief to households, which should ideally take the form of targeted income support.
Higher savings of gas by households would relieve firms from some of the pressure to save gas. In turn, this burden-sharing could lower the risk of a recession. To save even more gas, as the IMF explains in its recent staff report and blog, the government could compensate users for reducing gas consumption and establish programs to exchange gas heaters for electric heat pumps.
Yushu Chen is a research assistant and Galen Sher is an economist in the IMF’s European Department.