Natural gas to come from the under-construction Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany below the Baltic Sea is needed as a “fall-back option” to guarantee his country’s security of energy supply, a high-ranking German government official said.

Asked on behalf of Recharge at the Pomeranian Offshore Wind Conference in Szczecin whether building the controversial pipeline wasn’t undermining efforts to use the expansion of offshore wind to achieve energy independence from Russia, Andreas Feicht, secretary of state in Germany’s economics and energy ministry, said “it is all a question of diversification.”

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“If you look strategically on that point of view, phasing out coal and nuclear, and relying on natural gas and renewables, we need not only diversify renewables – with onshore, PV and offshore and a very good integration in the electricity market - we also have to diversify our supply of gas,” Feicht said.

Central and Eastern European countries have been bitter about Berlin’s insistence to continue the project led by Russian gas giant Gazprom that is slated to double the country’s gas exports to Germany currently flowing through the already operating parallel Nord Stream 1 pipeline to some 110 billion cubic metres per year.

Being able to circumvent Eastern European countries to get its gas directly to the large German market by using the 1,230-kilometre-long pipeline under the Baltic Sea will increase Russia’s ability to pressure Eastern Europeans during price negotiations, they fear.

Energy independence

Without mentioning Russia directly, Lithuania’s energy minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas at the conference in Poland stressed that his country indeed sees offshore wind as a means to rid itself of energy dependence.

“Offshore [wind] development is seen as the possibility to ensure more domestic, indigenous energy production, because now we are relying heavily on electricity imports, there is an about 70% dependence on imports,” Vaičiūnas said, adding the power from wind at sea by 2030 should meet a quarter of his country’s electricity needs.

Regarding Nord Stream 2, the minister said that Lithuania’s experience with liquefied natural gas (LNG) has been excellent for its diversification of sources.

“Before, we were relying on one supplier, which in our case was not a reliable supplier. In 2012, we paid the highest price in the world for gas,” he said.

“After the [LNG] terminal came to our market, this year [it] is the record supplier of gas to our system, [representing] about 80%. So, now we have a competitive situation for our industry. This is not only a geopolitical question, but also one of competition.”

Unlike in Lithuania, Russian gas imports via pipeline have actually been the cheapest source of natural gas in Germany, and there have never been interruptions in supply.

LNG terminals

Germany’s Feicht stressed that his country is also planning LNG terminals to diversify sources, and added the infrastructure being built for that could then be used when Germany will also exit gas as a climate-damaging fossil energy source.

“In the long term, we need to decarbonise this natural gas.,” Feicht said.

“And that is why we launched a hydrogen strategy this summer. It is also something we want to discuss and debate at a European level. Hydrogen has the potential to shift gas out of the system in order to decarbonise. This is all part of a consistently made strategy.”

Germany’s Green Party opposition and renewable energy groups, however, argue that Berlin’s strategy is not consistent at all, and the government should avoid building up very expensive infrastructure such as LNG terminals at a time it has pledged to reach climate neutrality by 2050 anyway.

Nord Stream 2 has also angered US President Donald Trump, who has threatened Germany with economic sanctions over it, arguing it would increase Russia’s energy grip over Europe. The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly snubbed the US concerns, arguing the US only want to push their own (more expensive) LNG exports.

Denmark’s energy agency according to the Reuters news wire today gave Nord Stream 2 permission to operate in its waters, although the country’s government isn’t happy about the project either.