Sale of electric heaters in Germany skyrockets
Berlin, Oct 03: A 3-year-old toddler performs the ultimate test for buying an electric heater before recommending it to his father. He sticks out both his palms, soaks in the heat and smiles at the make-believe fireplace. Then he looks at his father, who peeks at the price tag.
The two are standing amid a maze of electric heaters in a dedicated section at a retail store in Germany. This section has surprisingly seen way more activity in 2022 than in the past few years.
Amid fears over a gas shortage in Germany prompted by the move away from Russian energy, households have been stocking up on expensive electric heating devices.
Along with other European countries, Germany has been scrambling with rising energy costs after Russia halted supplies through the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline.
Sales up sharply in Germany
A whopping 958,000 electric heaters have been sold in Germany since the beginning of 2022, according to data that market research company Growth from Knowledge (GfK) provided to DW.
The volume of electric heater sales in the German market has jumped by 76% in January-August 2022 over the same period a year earlier.
Interestingly, the overall volume decreased by 5.1% when combining sales in five big European countries (Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Italy).
This means that while some European countries are buying fewer electric heaters, Germany is on a panic- shopping spree.
"Value growth from January-August 2022 was only driven by massive growth in Germany. All other markets show a negative result in value and volume for January-August 2022 compared with the same period of the previous year," GfK said in a statement.
Individual retail stores confirm this trend. When DW reached out to BAUHAUS, a German retail store for home improvement, a company representative said in a statement that the management noticed "a seasonally atypical increase in demand for alternative [to gas-based] heat sources due to the currently unclear global situation and the associated price increases for gas and energy."
Hefty cost for electric heating
The artistic electric fireplace, which is about as tall as the toddler mentioned before, costs €199 ($190). The father has to make a choice: Does he buy this, or the small handheld fan heater which costs €25? There are others in the shop of various shapes and sizes in the price range in between.
Some expensive models would consume less energy than others, their manufacturers claim. But many of the electric heaters on sale tend to consume a lot of electricity.
Overburdening power grids
A potential consequence of using too many electric heaters could be blackouts due to too much strain on the power grid.
Responding to DW in a statement, the German Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW) said "[heaters] can overload the power grids, for example when many households in a district turn on their heaters at the same time on a cold winter evening."
The association added that if there is a gas shortage despite all precautionary measures taken in Germany then households would always be given priority in supplying gas. Only hospitals, police and fire brigades have the same privilege enshrined in law.
"We are in a very tense situation, but scaremongering is not going to help us here. Private households are among the protected customers," BDEW said.
A spokesperson from Stadtwerke Bonn (SWB), an energy and transport public sector utility in Germany, also emphasised in a statement that "critical infrastructure and private households would be the last to be affected by delivery restrictions."
The spokesperson said a better alternative for electric heaters would be an electric blanket, which requires only a fraction of the power consumption of a fan heater.
In the long run, only an increase in the use of renewable energy sources can wean Germany off gas, but that will take more time and won't disperse widespread fears among Germans of a frosty and uncomfortable winter ahead.