German energy supplies based on gas imports
As the second most important primary energy source in the energy mix, gas makes a significant contribution to energy supply in Germany. It is used for heating, industrial manufacturing processes, as a transport fuel and for electricity generation in gas-fired power plants.
Unlike other countries, Germany has relatively modest natural gas reserves and production is declining sharply. The country therefore relies on gas imports. About six percent of gas consumption can currently still be met by domestic supplies – mainly from Lower Saxony, but also Schleswig-Holstein (North Sea) and North Rhine-Westphalia. There are also smaller gas reservoirs in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in the Upper Rhine Valley, in the Thuringian Basin and in Saxony-Anhalt. According to the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, domestic natural gas production amounted to around eight billion cubic metres in 2016. Biomethane from regional biogas plants accounts for around one percent, or almost one billion cubic metres. More than 90 percent of domestic natural gas consumption must therefore be imported – primarily from Russia, Norway and the Netherlands.
Natural gas is produced from onshore and offshore gas and oil wells. The gas, which is usually trapped in rock pores under high pressure, flows to the surface through boreholes from different depths. This process, which is preceded by geological exploration work, is part of what’s known as the "upstream" side of the gas industry, i.e. all activities related to the production of natural gas.
The subsequent treatment of gas for transportation, which is sometimes necessary, is already part of the downstream process. This also includes trading on the market. Traders buy gas quantities according to specific requirements and demand. With increasing market liquidity, there are also traders that only trade the value of gas volumes, not the volumes themselves. Gas deliveries from the global natural gas reservoirs to the German pipeline network and domestic transportation take place primarily via buried pipelines.
Gas imports via pipelines and tankers
Natural gas is not only transported by pipelines. Cooled to minus 161 degrees Celsius, the gas liquefies and can then be shipped by sea as so-called LNG (liquefied natural gas) in tankers. This way, supplies from overseas – e.g. the USA, Qatar or Algeria – also reach the German gas grid. The change in its aggregate state means that the gas loses volume which makes it easier to transport. After arrival at the port of destination, it is regasified and fed into Germany's pipeline system and then transported to its destination by gas network operators. Since the liquefaction process is very energy-intensive, this type of transportation is only worthwhile over longer distances. Pipeline transmission is more economical on shorter routes. Germany has no LNG terminals at present but potential sites are being explored. There are several LNG terminals in neighbouring France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland.
Within Germany, the transmission system operators transport the gas to the regions of consumption. Downstream distribution network operators, such as municipal utilities, ensure further distribution and delivery to the end users, while gas that is not intended for immediate consumption can be stored in large underground storage facilities. The German gas storage facilities, which have a combined storage volume of 234 TWh, are an important pillar of supply security because they can mitigate import disruptions even over longer periods, e.g. when winters turn out to be long and harsh.