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EXPLAINED: How reliant is Austria on Russia for energy?

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues and economic sanctions take hold, The Local takes a closer look at how much Austria relies on Russia for energy.

How will energy supplies be impacted by the Russia-Ukraine war? Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP
The City of Vienna has launched a new financial package to help with energy costs. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Austria is heavily dependent on Russia to fulfil its energy demands, like many other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

As a result, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent economic sanctions by the EU, UK, Canada, USA and other countries around the world has raised fears about the future of Russian energy supplies.

In early March, Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer pledged support of EU sanctions against Russia but warned there could be “consequences” for Austria. 

What does this mean and how could the country’s energy supply be impacted?

Heavily dependent on Russian gas

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Elisabeth Christen, Senior Economist at the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Wifo) told The Local that 80 percent of Austria’s gas is imported from Russia and that most of the EU is heavily dependent on Russian gas.

However, Christen said Russia’s economy is also very reliant on capital from exporting gas, so while Austria – and Europe – relies on Russia to meet energy demands, it is a “mutual dependence”.

FOR MEMBERS: UPDATED: How Austria could be impacted by the war in Ukraine

In fact, across the EU, 47 percent of all gas supplies come from Russia. Norway is the second largest gas importing country to Europe, supplying 21 percent of all gas to EU countries.

The EU is now bringing forward plans to switch to greener forms of energy and is openly discussing ways to separate itself from a reliance on Russian oil and gas. 

Where else does Austria import gas from?

Apart from the 80 percent from Russia, Austria imports ten percent of gas from Norway, five percent from Germany and the rest from other sources. 

To compare, Germany gets 32 percent of its gas from Russia, 20 percent from Norway, 12 percent from the Netherlands and the rest from elsewhere, according to Reuters.

In the UK, a government fact sheet shows only four percent of the country’s total gas supply is imported from Russia. The majority of the UK’s supply comes from the UK Continental Shelf and Norway.

Could Austria’s gas supply be affected by the conflict?

One big question – both before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and since the announcement of EU sanctions –  is whether Austria could run out of gas. Possible scenarios include supplies being interrupted by military conflict in or in retaliation by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Currently, gas is supplied from Russia to European countries (including Austria) on a long-term contractual basis and Russia is still fulfilling these contracts. 

READ MORE: How to save money on fuel costs in Austria

However, Austria’s reserve storage of gas is lower than in previous years at just around 25 percent.

Christen said: “Compared to other years the storage level is lower because the winter has been cold and there is a huge supply issue at the moment due to the rebound of economic activity [following Covid-19 lockdowns], so Austria’s gas storage is not as good as in previous years.”

In the worst case scenario of gas reserves running low, Christen said existing supplies could be limited within Austria and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) could be sourced from other countries.

Following Russia’s dismissal from the Swift payment system, this now means transactions between EU countries and Russia are no longer legally allowed to take place. This could cause problems in paying for future gas supplies. 

What action is Austria taking to mitigate the risk to gas supplies?

While Austria’s energy supply for the coming weeks and months is secure, there are concerns about next winter.

Der Standard reports that the Ministry of Climate Protection is working on a new law to mandate a specific reserve supply of gas in Austria, which is expected to be voted on in the summer.

Currently, gas supply companies and importers are not obliged to store gas.

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The Federal Government is also working on rapid expansion plans of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and biogas (created by the breakdown of organic matter like food and animal waste).

Additionally, the government is exploring alternative sources of gas from the Middle East, as well as supplies of LNG. It has been suggested that LNG could be routed to Austria from the north Adriatic coast in Italy via the Adria-Vienna pipeline.

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REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?