Savings have officially become a fixture of the European Union’s energy policy.
Energy ministers from the 27 member states decided on Tuesday to extend the bloc-wide plan to voluntarily reduce gas demand by 15% until March 2024.
The unprecedented plan was agreed last summer at the peak of the energy crisis, when gas prices were on a seemingly unstoppable upward trend and the Kremlin was actively manipulating pipeline flows.
The initiative, dubbed “Save gas for a safe winter,” was initially met with scepticism from member states, who vied to secure tailor-made exemptions and derogations.
The original goal established a voluntary 15% reduction between August 2022 and March 2023, with a compulsory option if shortages turned severe.
But the fear of an impossibly high bill pushed consumers and companies to take matters into their own hands and save as much energy as possible, regardless of what policymakers negotiated in Brussels.
The EU ended up comfortably overshooting its own target: between August and January, gas demand plunged by almost 19.3% compared to the average consumption for the same months between 2017 and 2022, according to figures unveiled by Eurostat.
The largest savings were registered in Finland (–57.3%), Lithuania (–47.9%) and Sweden (–40.2%).
The EU’s overall reduction is expected to widen even further after taking into account the numbers from February and March.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has described the drop in gas use as the steepest on the EU’s record and has cited adjustments made by industry and buildings, such as lowering the thermostat, shortening hot showers and installing heat pumps, as the main drivers behind the trend.
Experts and analysts have signalled gas savings as one of the tools that helped the continent weather the worst-case scenario of the energy crisis.
In a sign of how popular and effective savings have become, the extension of the gas reduction plan was approved by ministers without any major discussion or disagreement.
“Reducing our gas demand has allowed us to fill our storages, keep prices down and secure more energy supplies,” said Ebba Busch, Sweden’s minister for energy, speaking on behalf of the EU Council presidency.
“It’s important that we keep up the work and stay resilient.”
Under the plan, member states can freely choose the ways to achieve the reduction, while retaining the possibility of declaring a so-called “Union alert” and make the 15% target mandatory across the bloc.
So far, no Union alert has been declared.
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