Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and other members of the government officially opened the first German LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony, on Saturday. Liquefied natural gas should additionally secure the energy supply in the coming years. This reduces dependence on Russia - but there are also a few sore points.
Wilhelmshaven is finished. The heart of the floating terminal off the North Sea coast is the almost 300 meter long special ship "Höegh Esperanza". In the future, it will convert the liquefied natural gas delivered by tankers into the gaseous state and feed it into the German gas network. The ship is already loaded with gas and is scheduled to start operations in the coming week.
According to the state government, the LNG tankers will arrive from mid-January. Lower Saxony's Economics Minister Olaf Lies (SPD) wants to set up a second terminal in the city on the Jade Bay. Wilhelmshaven II is scheduled to open at the end of 2023, initially also as a swimming terminal.
In Stade, a private consortium had already started preparing a plant near the chemical park with the US company Dow before Russia attacked Ukraine. A floating platform is scheduled to go into operation here at the end of 2023, construction steps such as dike crossings have been approved. A permanent transhipment point is to be ready by 2026.
A swimming terminal is to start work in Brunsbüttel before the turn of the year. The first LNG tanker is scheduled to dock there at the end of December. At the same time, German LNG Terminal GmbH is planning a permanent facility there, which is expected to go into operation in 2026.
In Lubmin in western Pomerania, where the German-Russian Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines also arrive, the company Deutsche Regas wants to import LNG with a floating terminal. The start date was supposed to be early December, but delays in the approval process prevented that. However, Regas hopes to be able to start operations this month. A second terminal is scheduled to open in the second half of 2023.
Due to the time pressure in the energy crisis, planning procedures were accelerated, but the state governments attached importance to the publication of project documents. Critics could or can submit objections to the projects. The German Environmental Aid (DUH) announced legal action against Wilhelmshaven I on the day of the inauguration. For the "quick and media-effective opening of the first German LNG terminal", a hitherto "unique restriction of participation and environmental rights" was accepted, the environmentalists complain.
Apart from residents of the ports and pipelines, resistance has formed primarily among nature and marine conservationists. Representatives of several environmental organizations fear more stress for marine ecosystems as a result of the new systems in the water. In Rostock, a study revealed problems related to simultaneous crude oil deliveries.
So far, Germany and other European countries have received the LNG received via the Netherlands, Belgium or France primarily from the USA. Qatar is also one of the largest exporters. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) tried to find supply relationships on a trip in spring. Qatar is said to want long-term contracts and is already selling a lot of gas to Asia. Other important LNG exporting countries are Australia, Malaysia and Nigeria.
Some operators are still reluctant to provide specific information on the origin of the deliveries. For example, Brunsbüttel is to receive gas from Abu Dhabi. The head of the Federal Network Agency, Klaus Müller, emphasized: "We support the infrastructure expansion to replace Russian gas imports in order to promote greater diversification of our gas sources." Network plans have now been revised.
Wilhelmshaven I is connected to the national gas network via a 26-kilometer pipeline. It leads to the connection point Etzel. The line will initially transport 10 billion, later up to 28 billion cubic meters per year and be able to be used for hydrogen.
In Stade, the gas is to be fed directly into the network of the Dutch operator Gasunie. The corresponding connection must be expanded for this. From Brunsbüttel, Gasunie has already completed a three-kilometer pipeline that will connect the terminal to the European long-distance network. In order to be able to use the full capacity of the plant, the company is building a 55-kilometer energy transmission line to Hetlingen in Schleswig-Holstein. It is scheduled to go into operation in December 2023.
Ten billion cubic meters of re-vaporized gas per year should be able to be handled via the two Wilhelmshaven swimming pools. Five billion cubic meters are also planned for the "Floating Storage and Regasification Unit" (FSRU) in Stade. The planners of the permanent terminal there have so far assumed around 13 billion cubic meters - which could be enough for up to 15 percent of Germany's gas requirements.
In relation to the quantities purchased from Russia so far, Prime Minister Stephan Weil (SPD) estimated that it might be possible to later replace them entirely with LNG arriving in Lower Saxony. Before the start of the Ukraine war, Germany imported more than 50 percent of its natural gas requirements from the Russian Federation.
3.5 billion cubic meters per year are to be connected to the grid via the Brunsbüttel FSRU, and according to earlier information, around eight billion cubic meters for the fixed system. In Lubmin, around five billion cubic meters per year are planned for both terminals.
The conditions under which LNG will come onto the energy market are still relatively uncertain. World market prices fluctuate, and the quantities still tied up in current contracts can keep supply tight.
A lot of CO2 is also released when natural gas is burned – climate protectors are therefore harsh on the expansion of LNG capacities. The mixtures, which mainly consist of methane, are simply compressed and ultra-deep-frozen for transport. In addition, the USA in particular is producing large quantities with the controversial fracking process. The gas is pressed out of rock pores under high pressure; in the case of older technology, a chemical cocktail is used.
Environmentalists are also concerned about the habitats of marine animals and plants. Many believe that the thoroughness of environmental assessments could suffer as projects are pushed through more quickly. The red-green coalition agreement in Lower Saxony recently assured: "We will ensure compliance with environmental and nature conservation standards with water ecological monitoring."
Lower Saxony's Energy Minister Christian Meyer (Greens) emphasizes that the greater use of LNG should only be a temporary solution until there is enough electricity and heat from renewable sources: "We have to replace fossil fuels as soon as possible because the climate crisis doesn't give us any more time leaves." The permanently installed, later LNG terminals should also be able to be used for green hydrogen - a third swimming facility for Wilhelmshaven is therefore unnecessary.