Crise du gaz : les particuliers allemands se ruent sur le charbon

published on Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at 08:34

German coal producers have been producing at full capacity since the start of the Ukraine crisis, but are struggling to meet demand.

They were just a handful of Berliners to warm themselves with coal, and rarely by choice. But with gas shortages looming after the war in Ukraine, many have brought out old coal stoves for the winter.

“Such a rush in the summer, everyone who wants coal, we’ve never seen that,” says Frithjof Engelke, a Berlin supplier of black stones that have become scarce commodities in the capital. “The holidays will wait”: you have to take orders, organize deliveries by truck -expected until October- and prepare products for those who come directly to buy their fuels in your warehouse.

On a hot August day, he weighs and bags loose coal amid the dust and noise of his filling machine, then places the bags on pallets, awaiting customers.

In Berlin, 5 to 6,000 homes are still heated by coala small fraction of the roughly 1.9 million households, the city says.

They are often elderly people, sometimes totally dependent on this fuel and living in old houses that have never been renovated, or lovers of the strong heat that emanates from old stoves.

But this year new customers have arrived “in droves”, stresses Frithjof Engelke, whose small company has also diversified into wood pellets or fuel oil. “Those who heat themselves with gas, but who still have a stove at home now all want to have coal”, a phenomenon, according to him, widespread in Germany.

Jean Blum is one of them. On that day, this 55-year-old man, with tousled white hair and beard, loads 25kg sacks filled with black gemstones into his trailer. “I am buying coal for the first time in many years”, he said. Since his house is equipped with gas, he sometimes lights his stove, but only with wood.

With the increase in the price of gas, which will worsen from October when operators are able to pass on rising energy prices to the consumer, he wants to ensure a safety net.

“Even if it’s bad for your health, it’s better than being cold,” he says. If you have to pay 30% more than before, charcoal is also cheaper than wood, whose prices have more than doubled. “I am worried, I wonder if there will be enough gasoline for everyone,” he also adds, while Vladimir Putin has already partially closed that tap on which Germany is very dependent.

Black fuel is experiencing, like it or not, a comeback in the country. The German government has already decided to make greater use of power plants to guarantee the enormous electrical needs of its industry.

Although he assures not to give up his goal of abandoning this polluting energy in 2030, and excludes “a renaissance of fossil fuels, in particular coal”, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently declared.

With the appearance of all these new private clients, production is struggling to keep upand many small charcoal merchants in the capital have nothing else to sell.

“We produce at full capacity during the summer, with three shifts, seven days a week,” said Thoralf Schirmer, a spokesman for the LEAG company. Located in the Lusatian coalfield to the east, the site supplies charcoal stones to DIY stores and fuel vendors.

Production is up 40% since January, he said, but demand is strong everywhere and the situation should remain tense through at least this winter. Especially since the other factory that supplies the market in Germany, based in the Rhine basin, will stop production at the end of the year, reducing supply.

“I’m a bit afraid of winter,” admits Frithjof Engelke. Currently, people are relatively relaxed when they learn that they will have to wait at least two months before being delivered, he says. “Things will be drastically different when it starts to get cold outside.”

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