Thursday, 29 September, 2022
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Germany’s Russian gas crisis sparks coal rush

Germany’s Russian gas crisis sparks coal rush

Popular News

BERLIN: “A rush like this in the summertime, it's unheard of -- everybody wants coal,” says Frithjof Engelke, a supplier of the briquettes which have become a hot commodity in the German capital.

A looming shortage of Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine war has reignited enthusiasm for this method of heating private homes despite its sooty residue and heavy carbon footprint, reports AFP.

Engelke, 46, head of the century-old Berlin business Hans Engelke Energie, says it's brought a bonanza for his family business: "My holidays will have to wait."

He and his team are frenziedly taking orders, organising deliveries by truck -- now booked out until October, and getting supplies ready for those who come directly to pick up coal from his warehouse. 

On a hot summer's day, he weighs and bags loose coal amid the dust and din of his filling machine, then arranges the bags on pallets, awaiting customers.

In Berlin, 5-6,000 homes still heat with coal -- only a fraction of the city's 1.9 million homes, say municipal authorities.

Engelke's customers are often elderly people, sometimes entirely dependent on coal and living in old dwellings that have never been renovated.

Others are lovers of the "cosy" heat emanating from often ornate old ceramic stoves.

But this year, new customers have arrived "en masse", says Engelke, whose medium-sized company has also diversified into wood pellets and fuel oil.

"Those who heat with gas but who still have a stove at home now all want to have coal," he said, citing a phenomenon seen throughout Germany as winter approaches.

Jean Blum is one of the new converts.

The 55-year-old man with tousled hair and a bushy white beard loads 25-kilogram (55-pound) bags filled with precious black briquettes in his trailer.

"I'm buying coal for the first time in years," he tells AFP.

Since his home is equipped with gas heating, he sometimes lights his stove, but only with wood.

With the jump in gas prices, which will be exacerbated this autumn when operators will be able to pass on the increase in energy levies to the consumer, Blum wants to make sure he has a safety net.

"Even if it's bad for your health, it's still better than being cold," he says.

Although coal prices have soared 30 percent this season, it remains cheaper than wood, whose price has more than doubled.