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Boiler room in Arnsberg: "Appeals for savings alone are not enough"

Photo: Wolfgang Maria Weber / IMAGO

Private households in Germany hardly actively saved heating energy in 2022 – despite high oil and gas prices and urgent warnings of a supply crisis. This is shown by an evaluation of consumption in almost 4000 residential buildings, which was carried out by the non-profit consulting company co2online and which is available to SPIEGEL.

The households, mostly detached and semi-detached houses, required a total of 10.6 percent less heating energy, but this was almost exclusively due to the mild winter. If you subtract the temperature effect, you get an active saving of only 1.4 percent. For households with gas heating, the figure was 3.5 percent.

In the summer of 2022, the Federal Network Agency had actually set a savings target of 20 percent for gas consumption. Russia had gradually turned off the gas tap to the Federal Republic of Germany after the invasion of Ukraine.

Due to the lower deliveries, there was a threat of a supply crisis last winter. In the worst-case scenario, companies were threatened with forced shutdown. Supply chains could have ruptured and jobs could have been lost.

"The deeper data analysis shows that appeals for savings alone are not enough," says Tanja Loitz, Managing Director of co2online. Experts see several reasons for this.

For example, German gas storage facilities were well filled by the end of 2022 – which counteracted the urgent warnings of the Federal Network Agency. In addition, consumers receive little recognition for saving energy, and the effect of their actions on the big picture is hardly apparent. This is likely to dampen the motivation of many to change their own behaviour.

In addition, it is difficult to consume less heating energy, especially in energy-inefficient buildings – because the houses simply cool down too quickly. In 2022, consumption in buildings with a medium-poor efficiency class even increased by up to 3.4 percent compared to the previous year.

Co2online therefore recommends state minimum efficiency standards and renovation requirements. Tenants could thus be protected from excessively high heating costs, it was said. Energy-efficient houses with new heating and thermal insulation saved between 50 and 80 percent of energy. Experts also recommend that consumers be more actively informed about energy-saving measures and that they be more closely supported in their implementation.

At least a small population group was already particularly frugal in 2022. For around ten percent of the households evaluated, the temperature-adjusted savings were 20 percent and higher, writes co2online. What exactly motivated these people to change their behavior is not apparent in the data. There were hardly any deviations from the sample as a whole – except that they lived in slightly smaller apartments.

Energy, please! Tips to save a lot

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Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

There are many energy-saving tips. But here we have some that are easy to implement, don't cost much and can even be sustained.

SectionTip 1: Child's play!

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

Make a game out of it! After all, the savings effect, regardless of the measure, is greater the more family members participate. Then the last person to turn up the thermostat scores; it gets a deduction in whose room the light is still on when you leave. Important: no dangerous exaggerations, everyone according to their possibilities.

AreaTip 2: Always open blue

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

Be economical with hot water – it's vague. Better: Set all one-hand mixers to blue. Most people would intuitively put them in the middle position. However, lukewarm water is mixed, and cold water is sufficient for most occasions.

SectionTip 3: You energy-saving shower!

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

The debate about Robert Habeck's shower habits did not go down well. However, one would like to know exactly what energy-conscious showering actually brings. The shower calculator of the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer advice center (you can get there directly) helps. There you can see how much money can be saved – even if you don't stand under ice-cold water. In the example: If you heat the water to 36 instead of 38 degrees and shower for only seven minutes instead of eight minutes, you save 150 euros in energy costs over the year.

SectionTip 4: Who am I actually heating for here?expand

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

Overheated rooms cost energy, and every degree less saves six percent. How to adjust radiators accordingly? Recently, a short video circulated on Twitter of a thermostat on whose scale someone had attached the photos of politicians: Anyone who turns up the heating to "4" makes Gazprom lobbyist Gerhard Schroeder happy, on "5" Putin laughs in his fist. Electronic thermostats can also help: "20 degrees" is still more specific than "2".

AreaTip 5: Open the window! (But briefly.) open

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

If you want to heat well, you have to ventilate properly. This is not new, but because many people now think of Corona when they hear the word "shock ventilation", it is worth remembering. After all, it saves a lot of heating energy if you ventilate briefly two or three times a day in winter with the window wide open, instead of tilting the windows for hours.

SectionTip 6: Let us help you expand

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

Even those who consume little electricity indirectly save gas, and part of the electricity supply in Germany is provided by gas-fired power plants. Power strips and timers are tried and tested tools for saving electricity, because they can be used to reliably disconnect the many electronic devices from the mains that still draw power when switched off. Among Stromspar-Check.de, Caritas provides individual advice on this. And best of all, you can get some of these little aids there for free.

AreaTip 7: Open the lid

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

An example from the small livestock department: When cooking, putting a lid on the pot saves a lot of energy. Of course, this is not possible with some dishes, pasta, for example, is best cooked in an open pot. But even here you can bring the water to a boil with the lid on and only remove it when the noodles are added.

AreaTip 8: Unfold an extra layer

Illustrations: Noa Günter / DER SPIEGEL

Multi-layer windows are good thermal insulation – if you don't have one, you can equip your old windows with an insulating film, which is offered in hardware stores. The Hessian State Energy Agency calculates that single-glazed panes can save 25 euros per square meter in energy costs per year. And shows here step by step how to do it.