The gas storage facilities are still well filled, and spring will begin in a few days. The question of what consequences gas rationing would have for industry has been settled for the time being. But the next winter is sure to come – and that's why the emergency plans of the Federal Network Agency have by no means disappeared into the drawer. Should it get tight, it would have to decide as a "federal load distributor" who gets how much gas.

Helmut Bünder

Business correspondent in Düsseldorf.

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"It is necessary to work with the same consistency as last year and to make preparations for all scenarios," the authority said in a paper. The authority does not want to set an exact shutdown sequence for individual companies for the coming winter. However, an evaluation scheme that has now been published shows which industries would be "particularly worthy of protection" in a shortage situation or, conversely, would be most likely to be eligible for cuts.

The network agency relies on a study by the Prognos Institute. It examined a total of 78 "production areas" and classified them according to their importance. The 36 sectors classified as "critical infrastructure" by the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) enjoy the highest protection status, such as energy supply, nutrition, health, water supply, information technology and telecommunications, media and culture, waste disposal, administration and transport. The protected customers also include private households, which would be supplied primarily with gas for heating even in the event of a shortage.

As things stand so far, it would initially affect around 40,000 smaller companies. In the first phase, they would have to expect percentage cuts in the event of a gas shortage. With the new catalogue, however, numerous companies are filtered out of this group because they are also classified as particularly worthy of protection. These include dairies and meat plants, beverage manufacturers and mineral oil processing, but also the manufacture of precision instruments and the automotive trade.

Chemicals, glass and steel "less worthy of protection"?

If the "proportional" cuts among the remaining smaller companies are not enough, the Network Agency can issue "individual orders" to reduce the gas purchases of the 2500 largest gas consumers. At first glance, the lists seem explosive. Chemicals, plastics, paper, iron and steel, glass, plastics, metal products and building materials such as bricks, tiles and ceramics are listed as "production areas less worthy of protection", all sectors with high direct gas consumption. According to earlier data from its industry association, the chemical industry alone needs around 15 percent of total demand.

However, the lists do not yet allow any conclusions to be drawn about where and to what extent the red pencil would actually be applied. In a second step, it will be examined to what extent these industries supply inputs and products in order to keep the critical areas going. Chemical precursors for vital areas are therefore more important than plastic for toy production. As a result, a "degree of significance" is determined, which indicates what proportion of gas consumption is needed on the value chains for production areas that are particularly worthy of protection. According to the study, this is 41 percent in chemistry, but only 23 percent in steel production.

Substitutability is included

Finally, the third stage is about whether and to what extent critical primary products could also be obtained from abroad. The benchmark for this is the "complexity" of the products, which is intended to give an indication of how easily they can be replaced. According to Prognos, plastics, for example, make only a "very small contribution to production areas that are particularly worthy of protection". On the other hand, they are considered to be particularly difficult to substitute. In this way, each production area is assigned criteria "that allow prioritization," according to the study.

However, the network agency attaches great importance to the fact that the results will not form the sole basis for decision-making. Among other things, business and economic costs would also have to be taken into account. This includes, for example, the question of whether a gas stop causes permanent damage to the plants, as fears, for example, in the glass industry. Decisions will be made "only directly in the actual crisis situation, under the then applicable framework and boundary conditions," according to the official paper.