UPDATED: What does the government’s ‘gas alert’ mean for Austria?

Following a crisis summit on Tuesday, Austria's 'gas alert' will remain at the early warning level. But the government is appealing to businesses to save energy and switch to alternative sources where possible.

A radiator seen up close. Photo: ri / Pixabay

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler has confirmed Austria’s warning system in the gas emergency plan will be not raised to the alert level yet, but has instead made an appeal to businesses to start planning for the autumn and winter season now.

The announcement was made at a press conference following a crisis summit on Tuesday July 5th in Vienna, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler cited industrial and power plants as those that need to start making preparations and suggested they should switch to alternative energy sources, such as oil, if possible.

“Saving energy is always smart,” said Gewessler, before emphasising how energy saving practices are also beneficial for the climate and the wallet.

Appealing to the general population, Gewessler told households to prepare for the coming winter season by servicing radiators and thermal baths and removing cladding from heating systems.

In the meantime, Gewessler said the Austrian government is negotiating with alternative (non-Russian) gas suppliers, adding that further details will be announced when the negotiations are complete.

Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply back in March.

At the time, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said “everything will be done to ensure the gas supply for Austria’s households and businesses”.

BREAKING: Austria activates alert system over gas supply

Why was the alert activated? 

The alert was activated after Russia announced that future gas deliveries can only be paid for with Rubles as a consequence of international sanctions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

While many in the west refused to pay in rubles, pointing out that payments in other currencies are allowed under the original contractual arrangements, there were fears the announcement could lead to a drop in gas supply. 

Initially, these fears were not realised, but in recent weeks the amount of gas being supplied to Austria from Russia has reduced.

Austria’s reserve tanks are currently at 46 percent. However, there is planned maintenance work on the pipeline from mid to late July, which Gewessler has described as “another decision point”, according to Der Standard.

What is the emergency system?

The emergency system is a three-tiered plan, with several repercussions if a new level is reached. 

The stages of the emergency plan are as follows. 

I – Early warning level : This level is reached if there are concrete and reliable indications that the gas supply could deteriorate. 

II – Alert level : If the gas supply situation actually deteriorates, the second level will be declared. Businesses are encouraged to use alternatives to natural gas whenever possible. 

III – Emergency level : Gas can no longer be supplied and the current demand can no longer be met. Measures for industry, such as substituting natural gas with other energies as energy control measures, are to be put in place. 

What does this mean for me?

As yet, the impact will not reach average Austrians. 

The government confirmed to Austrian media that rationing of gas will only start at level three. 

The main impact of the alert is that the situation will be “monitored more closely” Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) said. 

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ENERGY: How Austria has drastically reduced imports of Russian gas

Austria is no longer heavily dependent on Russian gas. How has this happened and how will it impact Austria’s gas supplies this winter? Here’s what you need to know.

ENERGY: How Austria has drastically reduced imports of Russian gas

Austria’s gas supply looks very different today compared to earlier this year when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Back in February, Austria sourced around 80 percent of all gas from Russia, with 10 percent coming from Norway, five percent from Germany and the remainder from other sources.

This put Austria in a delicate position as the EU began placing sanctions on Russia and experts voiced fears about Russia turning off the gas supply to Europe. This also took place at a time when Austria’s gas reserve tanks were only around 12 percent full.

READ MORE: Can British people in Austria claim the winter fuel payment from the UK?

However, as the first snowfall now covers more parts of the country, E-Control (the government regulator for electricity and gas markets) has confirmed that Austria reduced imports of Russian gas to 21 percent in September. 

The country’s gas tanks are also well stocked at just over 95 percent following a mild autumn. Although around a third of the gas belongs to neighbouring countries.

So how did this happen and where is Austria getting gas from now? The Local took a closer look to find out.

How did Austria reduce imports of Russian gas?

The biggest change to how Austria sources natural gas was by booking line capacity on pipelines that flow from Germany and Italy, reported Die Presse.

The gas now flowing to Austria is mostly coming from Norway or is liquefied natural gas (LNG).

At a recent press conference in Vienna, Johannes Schmidt from the Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, said: “Actually, it’s incredible what Europe and Austria in particular have achieved here over the summer.”

Austria’s partially state-owned OMV has also booked 40 terawatt hours (TWh) of gas transport capacity from Norway and non-Russian LNG suppliers for the period from October 2022 to September 2023. This gas is delivered to a tank in Oberkappel, Upper Austria, via Germany.

FOR MEMBERS: What are the rules about turning on the heating in the workplace in Austria?

Additionally, Austria has confirmed LNG shipments from Dubai, which further helps to boost the country’s energy security.

Picture taken on May 3, 2022 shows a general view of the largest Austrian refinery OMV at Schwechat near Vienna, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

A statement released from the Federal Chancellery said: “The United Arab Emirates are a strategic partner of Austria and will make a contribution to the security of supply with LNG deliveries next winter, as agreed between OMV and the Emirati ADNOC.

“Furthermore, the Austrian and Emirati governments will intensify cooperation on energy issues and climate protection.”

However, purchasing gas from new sources hasn’t been the only tactic to reduce Austria’s dependency on Russian gas.

In July, Austria and Germany finalised a solidarity agreement to secure gas flows between the two countries in the event of an energy crisis. And in September, the Austrian Federal Government launched the “Mission 11” campaign to encourage consumers to save energy. 

Finally, there are long-term plans to expand renewable energy infrastructure across Austria to reduce the overall dependency on natural gas. But the results of this part of the plan will not be seen until the coming years.

READ MORE: How expensive are gas and electricity in Austria right now?

Is Austria’s gas supply now secure?

Experts are positive about Austria’s ability to get through the coming winter without running out of gas.

However, they are now concerned about winter 2023/2024 with plans already being hashed out about how to secure gas supplies next spring and summer to fill up the tanks again.

The procurement of gas has also come at a big cost to Austria with the government spending €3.95 billion alone on securing the recently implemented strategic gas reserve of 20 percent of overall consumption, reports ORF.

And with energy prices set to skyrocket again for the next storage season, it’s likely the Austrian government will have to dig deep into the financial reserves once more in the spring.