One by one, the outdoor lights that stores had left on are extinguished. It’s one small but symbolic step in a giant leap of energy saving that Europe is trying to make as it rushes to wean itself off natural gas and oil from Russia so factories aren’t forced to close and homes stay heated and powered.
If Russia severs the supplies of gas it has already drastically reduced, authorities fear Europe risks becoming a colder, darker and less-productive place this winter. It’s imperative to economize gas now so it can be squirreled away for burning later in homes, factories and power plants, officials say.
“Europe needs to be ready,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “To make it through the winter, assuming that there is a full disruption of Russian gas, we need to save gas to fill our gas storages faster. And to do so, we have to reduce our gas consumption. I know that this is a big ask for the whole of the European Union, but it is necessary to protect us.”
And although Europe is scrambling to get energy from elsewhere, any difficulties this winter could be a harbinger of worse to come if Russian gas supplies are completely severed and stay off through 2023, said France’s minister overseeing energy, Agnès Pannier-Runacher.
“If gas deliveries are cut by the end of the year, that will mean we’ll have a full year without Russian gas, so the following winter could be even harder,” Pannier-Runacher told French senators.
Hence the mounting appeals — already familiar to exasperated parents of wasteful teenagers everywhere — for Europeans to take shorter showers, switch off power sockets and otherwise do what they can.
Germany had been getting about a third of its gas from Russia, making the EU’s biggest economy and most populous nation conspicuously vulnerable. Energy saving is in full swing, with lights going off, public pools becoming chillier and thermostats being adjusted.
The glass dome of the Reichstag, the parliament building in Berlin, is going dark after it closes to visitors at midnight, and two facades will no longer be lit. Legislators’ office temperatures will drop by 2 degrees to 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) this winter. Berlin City Hall, the Jewish Museum, two opera houses and the landmark Victory Column with panoramic views are among about 200 sites in the German capital that will no longer be lit at night.
Saunas are closing in Munich’s municipal swimming pools, which have chillier water now, too. There’ll only be cold showers at public pools in Hannover, part of a plan by the northern city to cut its energy use by 15%.