The rocketing price of natural gas prompted the Europeans to search for alternative energy sources. In Germany, where families face a €480 increase in gas bills, people are turning to stocking up on firewood.
The fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine plunged Europe into the worst energy crisis in decades. From Italy to the UK, governments are racing to replace supplies of natural gas from Russia and cut high costs for industry and households. But consumers also have to adapt, from reducing showers to lighting the chimney.
The German word for firewood, “brennholz,” peaked in terms of search volume on Google in mid-August:
The high cost of natural gas and firewood
Almost 50% of homes in Germany are heated with natural gas, and another 25% using heating oil. In the past, less than 6% used firewood.
This share is set to be higher this year. As natural gas prices have risen, so have the prices of firewood and wood pellets:
Heating ovens and wood stoves were also sold.
Raw material suppliers are struggling to keep up, leading to a scarcity of firewood. Earlier this summer, the German Federal Firewood Association said the whole market had run out of wood.
The lion’s share of firewood used in Germany – 80% according to the association – is usually sourced locally. Now German firewood suppliers are buying from Poland, leaving some residents in both countries to collect firewood. To prevent panic buying, one seller rationed purchases into three crates of wood at a time.
The wood drying process is long, which doubles the ability to meet demand. Ideally, it takes from six months to a year, because the more moisture the wood contains, the less efficiently it burns.
In the long run, the firewood rush also raises environmental concerns. Trees do not regenerate quickly and are not a viable alternative to replacing oil and gas, according to scientists. The fumes from burning wood also contain toxic chemicals.
Although the German government considers wood burning for fuels carbon-neutral, experts say the classification is not clear. The combination of wood burning and deforestation may increase carbon emissions.