Skyrocketing prices for natural gas have Europeans scrambling for alternative energy sources. In Germany, where households face a 480 euro rise in their gas bills, people are resorting to stockpiling firewood.
The fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sunk Europe into the worst energy crisis in decades. From Italy to the UK, governments are racing to replace natural gas supplies from Russia and curtail the higher costs for industry and households. But consumers, too, are having to adapt, from cutting back on showering to firing up the chimney.
The German word for firewood, “brennholz”, reached peak search volume on Google in mid-August:
The rising cost of natural gas and firewood
Almost 50% of homes in Germany are heated by natural gas, with another 25% using heating oil. In the past, less than 6% used firewood.
That share is set to be higher this year. As natural gas prices soared, so have those for firewood and wood pellets:
Heating furnaces and wood stoves are also selling out.
Suppliers of the raw material are struggling to keep up, leading to scarcity of firewood. Earlier this summer, Germany’s Federal Firewood Association said the market was all out of wood.
The lion’s share of firewood used in Germany—80% according to the association—is typically sourced domestically. Now German firewood suppliers are buying from Poland, leaving some residents in both countries to collect brushwood. To prevent panic-buying, one seller has been rationing purchases to three boxes of wood at a time.
The process for drying out wood is long, compounding the ability to meet demand. Ideally, it takes six months to a year, because the more moisture wood contains, the less efficient it is at burning.
Over the long run, the firewood rush also raises environmental concerns. Trees do not replenish quickly and are not a viable substitute for replacing oil and gas, according to scientists. The fumes from burning wood also contain toxic chemicals.
Although Germany’s government deems burning wood for fuel as carbon-neutral, experts say the designation is not clear-cut. The combination of burning wood and cutting down forests may increase carbon emissions.