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The energy crisis overwhelms Germany's ports

At the beginning of the last decade, manager Frank Schnabel suggested building a bunker station and, in the future, an import terminal for LNG in Brunsbüttel on the Kiel Canal, for deep-frozen, liquefied natural gas.

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The energy crisis overwhelms Germany's ports

At the beginning of the last decade, manager Frank Schnabel suggested building a bunker station and, in the future, an import terminal for LNG in Brunsbüttel on the Kiel Canal, for deep-frozen, liquefied natural gas. According to his idea, this could put the region's energy supply on a broader footing, for shipping as well as for the local chemical industry. For a long time, hardly anyone in politics was interested in this proposal, even after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, says Schnabel. In Berlin in 2015, Matthias Machnig (SPD), then State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Economics, assured him that Russia would always supply Germany with natural gas.

Machnig and many other LNG skeptics were wrong, and Schnabel was right. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, the diversification of energy sources in Germany cannot go fast enough. So far, Russia has covered around 50 percent of German natural gas requirements with pipeline gas, and these deliveries have now been discontinued. The Baltic Sea pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 were blown up by previously unknown perpetrators on the Danish island of Bornholm. In the future, Germany wants to replace half of Russian natural gas with LNG, which is imported by tanker from countries such as the USA, Canada, Qatar and Australia.

However, this requires new infrastructure in the ports. Schnabel and his team are now working flat out to be able to put Germany's first LNG import terminal into operation by the end of the year - a floating facility for regasification of LNG, which is to be stationed at the Elbe port in Brunsbüttel. "I'm almost only concerned with the topic of LNG, although I manage a company with 600 employees and 17 port locations," said Schnabel on Friday at the Hamburg Port Days with around 100 specialists and managers from the port industry in the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. In addition to the so-called "floating terminal", which will be located in Brunsbüttel for a transitional period, the port industry is also pushing ahead with the construction of a permanent LNG import terminal. "We have to be finished with the floating LNG terminal by December," says Schnabel. “This pushes the employees to their limits, both physically and mentally. But we are doing everything we can to make it happen.”

The energy crisis as a result of the Ukraine war, but also the accelerated energy transition, have suddenly brought Germany's seaports back into focus in the past year - as central interfaces for the security of supply for the entire country. In addition to Brunsbüttel, the federal government also wants to lay floating LNG terminals chartered by Germany in 2023 and 2024 in Stade, Wilhelmshaven, Rostock and Lubmin. Permanent import terminals are being built next to Brunsbüttel in Stade and in Wilhelmshaven; they are expected to go into operation in the middle of the decade.

When it comes to coal imports, some ports have already reached their capacity limit because many old coal-fired power plants are going back online to replace gas-fired power plants. Germany's largest coal and ore terminal, the Hansaport in Hamburg, is importing a record six million tons this year. In Brunsbüttel, says Schnabel, "we've been bombarded with coal since February, our areas are full".

In addition, there is an enormous need for space in seaports, especially those directly on the North and Baltic Seas, for the expansion of wind power at sea and on land. In recent years, Cuxhaven has established itself as the most important German offshore port. The handling is driven there by a wind turbine factory from Siemens Gamesa and by the Chinese steel construction company Titan Wind directly on the quayside. Added to this is the import of wind turbines for onshore sites from the Danish manufacturer Vestas via Cuxhaven to Germany. "Our port is full," says Hans-Peter Zint, Managing Director of the terminal operator Cuxport.

“We urgently need two new berths. The planning approval process and the preparations for its construction have been completed,” says Zint. "But the private sector does not want to invest at the moment, and the state of Lower Saxony lacks the money." Another reason for the reluctance of companies is that the offshore economy collapsed again after an initial boom in the past decade because the federal government at the time stopped the expansion of offshore wind farms had throttled again. Now, however, the existing capacity of German offshore wind farms – currently around eight gigawatts – is to be quadrupled by 2030 and almost ninefold by 2045 to 70 gigawatts. With which port areas this should be possible, nobody can say at the moment.

Overall, the ports feel overwhelmed by the new wave of energy management. From the point of view of the port authorities, there is a lack of public money for infrastructure, there is a lack of speed in the planning process and overall there is a lack of a port strategy by the federal government. "The support of the ports has zero meaning for the federal government, everything has to be done by the federal states," says Robert Howe, Managing Director of Bremenports. A sum of only 38 million euros per year as the federal government's "port burden equalization" for all German seaports is "a bad joke," criticizes the manager. "We have to invest billions," agrees Friedrich Stuhrmann, Managing Director of the Hamburg Port Authority.

Time is of the essence, because expanding the infrastructure at and in the ports is a lengthy process. New roads and rails, quaysides and pipelines are needed. "The importance of the ports for the security of the fossil energy supply as well as for the energy transition will increase significantly," says Johann Killinger, owner of the Hamburg port logistics company Buss. Killinger is one of the co-investors for the construction of a stationary LNG terminal at the port of Stade and for the stationing of a floating LNG import facility. In Eemshaven, the Netherlands, his Buss Group operates one of the largest European terminals for the offshore wind power industry. Years ago, a large part of the pipes for the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline went to the Baltic Sea via the Buss terminal in Sassnitz on the island of Rügen: "The critical infrastructure for the energy industry must not be sewn to the edge," says Killinger. "Germany will need all floating and fixed LNG terminals to replace Russian pipeline gas."

Frank Schnabel in Brunsbüttel is now experiencing the LNG boom on a daily basis. For almost seven years, until the start of the Ukraine war, plans had been made for a stationary terminal - without knowing whether it would ever be realized. "Last autumn we thought the topic of LNG was through." In the meantime, the state-owned KfW Bank has acquired a 50 percent stake in the realization company for the terminal, 40 percent is held by the Dutch energy company Gasunie and ten percent by the German group RWE. In addition to LNG, Brunsbüttel is also about the energy transition, about building an infrastructure for regeneratively produced hydrogen and ammonia, about the handling of wind turbines and their accessories. A number of industrial companies are suddenly very interested in the Brunsbüttel location because it promises a secure energy supply, especially with LNG, says Schnabel: "Until recently we still had around 450 hectares of industrial space available in Brunsbüttel. They are now fully reserved.”

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