Ben Moll Profile picture
Jul 15 53 tweets 32 min read
Thread: a collection of concrete cases of substitution & demand reduction in the energy crisis.

Economic theory predicts that, as prices rise, households & firms reduce demand and substitute. We're starting to see more and more such cases

I'll collect these here as we go along.
Background: EU countries must cut gas demand by substantial amounts, e.g. Germany by around 29%, to withstand a Russian gas cut-off. Other energy is getting scarcer as well.

Where might such demand reduction come from? And how costly will it be?

In our import stop paper we emphasize that it makes a big difference how much substitution occurs.

Importantly, this is not just about substitution of gas itself. Downstream substitution of gas-intensive products, e.g. via imports, also does the trick.

We also collected a number of concrete examples of how firms were able to substitute in other contexts.

Many people, especially industry lobbyists, claimed "substitution is impossible"

Remarkably, prices usually weren't mentioned. So it's really "no substitution even when prices skyrocket."

Of course, this then conveniently implies that subsidies to industry aren't all that bad😉
But how much do firms and households actually respond as prices are rising?

Let's get started. How long will the list grow? I'm unsure and curious.

If you know of a case of substitution that's not part of this thread, please send it my way.
0. (= actually one where everyone agrees) Substitution of gas in electricity generation: switching on coal-fired power plants.

This is big, e.g. in 🇩🇪 electricity accounts for ~12% of gas consumption.

EU countries are now preparing this. But this should have happened long ago! Image
1. Screw manufacturer Würth is converting some of the ovens it uses to make screws from gas to electricity.…
This could take up to a year.

@makro_philip is furious: if Würth had started doing this in March, the ovens may have been just about ready by late winter. Now they will likely be ready too late.

There should have been less lobbying and more substituting

2. @BASF can apparently substitute by producing ammonia (which is used in fertilizer production) in the U.S. rather than in Germany.

So the substitution via imports can even happen *within* the same firm.…
3. This study looks at German fertilizer production and shows "that increased ammonia imports have allowed domestic fertilizer production to remain remarkably stable."

4. Consistent with these stories, what looks like substitution via imports is starting to show up in aggregate trade data:

5. This article cites an Arcelor-Mittal manager essentially saying: we could, of course, import inputs for steel production from abroad. But we'd rather not bc it's expensive. Also, saving additional gas would result in lower production.

Shocking I know.… Image
6. Households and firms have already reduced their gas demand: according to this study for Germany, household demand is down 6% and industrial demand down 11% relative to early 2021.

One thing to note about households: prices are passed through to a much smaller extent due to long-term contracts, "only" between a 50% and 140% increase.

One can use these price increases and the 6% demand reduction to compute back-of-envelope elasticities.

These are between 0.07 to 0.15. As expected, small but very much not equal to zero. In our paper we used 0.1

(Math: log(0.94)/log(2.4) = -0.07 and log(0.94)/log(1.5) = -0.15)
That's my list for now. I'll append this thread as new cases come in.

#Econtwitter are you aware of other cases? Perhaps some from countries other than Germany for a change? I'd love to hear about them!
New additions:

7. Some German dairy producers will switch from gas to oil in case gas deliveries get cut.… HT @resilietas ImageImage
8. Munich's energy supplier @SWM_Muenchen
- is postponing the conversion of a heating plant from coal to gas
- will convert two heating plants from gas back to oil… ImageImage
9. CEO of German chemicals producer H&R tells the @FT they "could only replace about 25% of its gas consumption with coal and oil"

@MSchularick: 25% is a hell of a difference from the "no substitution possible" typically claimed by the chemicals lobby.

10. Related to point 6 above, industrial gas consumption in the Netherlands is
- down 25% (!) since Jan 2022
- down 40.5% (!!) since Jan 2019

HT @Mariekeconomie cc @LionHirth @OliverRuhnau

Data: Statistics Netherlands (CBS) & gas network operator (GTS)… Image
As a reminder: zero substitution --> production falls 1-for-1 with gas.

So if you think substitutability of gas along entire supply chain =0 (Leontief "cascade effects") you must also think 🇳🇱 production should be down 25% since Jan 2022.

Clearly not:… Image
11. Car manufacturer Audi says it can substitute 20% of its gas consumption in the near term, e.g. by turning down the heating in offices. Only 10% of gas is irreplaceable (paint shop, ovens) and "the minimum amount of gas needed".… HT @GeorgZachmann
12. Car manufacturer Mercedes says it can reduce its Germany-wide gas consumption by a whopping 50% "if regional pooling is made possible." For example, the paint shop in its Sindelfingen factory can be operated without any gas whatsoever.… HT @OliverRakau
13. Remember the lobbyists' favorite example of "substitution is impossible": the glass industry. Surprise surprise:

Glas manufacturer Wiegand Glass "will be able to heat its melting tanks [...] with light fuel oil instead of natural gas"… HT @Bajuwandres ImageImage
14. Veltins brewery says that brewing can continue in the brewhouse without interruption even if gas supply stops: "We can switch from gas to fuel oil firing in the boiler house within a few hours."

Plus they've cut gas by 1/3 to date.… HT @embargo_energy ImageImage
15. @BASF (same amount of gas as🇨🇭)
- can substitute 15% of gas used for heat & steam (=50% of total) with oil
- can easily substitute ammonia by importing
- can operate as long as gas >50%
- just revised profit expectations for 2022 UPWARDS… HT @LionHirth ImageImage
For comparison here's @BASF CEO Brudermüller back in March: a cut-off from Russian gas would mean the "destruction of the entire German economy" and the "worst crisis since the end of the Second World War"

Lobbyism at its best.…
It’s also always good to remember how @BASF got to be so reliant on Russian gas. For German speakers, this @ZDF video summarizes it nicely. See in particular the timeline around minute 1:00.…
16. Paper manufacturer Schoellershammer will substitute 50% of gas until early January by converting its gas-fired boiler to oil. Even without this measure, it can save 15% of gas while operating its machines at somewhat reduced capacity.… HT @ThWittlinger Image
17. Sugar manufacturer Pfeifer & Langen expects to cut Germany-wide gas consumption by 50%. Important part of plan: reshuffle gas across factories. Eg the factories in Appeldorn & Euskirchen can switch to oil which frees up gas for Jülich… HT @ThWittlinger ImageImage
Interesting aspect of cases 16 & 17: due to Germany's announced 2030 phase-out of lignite, both the paper manufacturer in 16 & sugar manufacturer in 17 switched everything from lignite to gas only a year ago

After all, gas was green, cheap, and secure. How times have changed! Image
18. (follow up on 15.)
@BASF now even advertise their substitution prowess in their analyst conference calls:
- “preparations to substitute natural gas are progressing well”
- “Continued operation at Ludwigshafen site is ensured down to 50% of BASF’s maximum natural gas demand”
19. (Follow-up on 5.)

Remember that poor @ArcelorMittal manager who essentially said “we could of course substitute by importing metal inputs, but it really wouldn’t be good for our bottom line”? Guess what they ended up doing:… HT @SteveCicala Image
Importantly, just like @BASF in case 2, @ArcelorMittal is yet another case of substitution via imports even happening *within* the same firm.
An important clarification because people often ask: doesn't substitution via imports destroy some production in importing country (🇩🇪)?

Answer: of course it does. But it kills the notorious "cascading effects" = one of main arguments of industry lobby.

More generally people sometimes ask: if a firm is cutting production doesn't that show it can't substitute?

The answer is: no, of course substitution is costly. The question is not WHETHER production falls but by HOW MUCH it falls?
No substitutability means production falls one-for-one with gas.

Some substitutability means production does fall but it falls by potentially much less than gas.

That's what we're seeing now.
Here’s a chart by @OliverRakau that shows this beautifully: German industrial gas use falls of a cliff (~40%) but manufacturing output & even chemical output fall by much less (~1% &10%)

The world is not Leontief!

*as @OliverRakau says the ENTSOG data may overstate the gas drop
20. Automotive supplier ZF says it should be able to reduce gas consumption by 20% by:
- turning down heating
- switching some production processes to electricity
- switching others to oil
- importing some parts from regions with lower energy prices ImageImage
21. Semiconductor manufacturer @Infineon aims to save two thirds (!) of its gas consumption by the end of 2022. One main measure is switching the energy source for the air conditioning systems cooling the rooms where their microchips are manufactured from gas to oil. ImageImage
22. Yet another glass industry example, just like case 13:

Special glass manufacturer Schott can switch its melting furnaces from natural gas to propane gas if necessary. To this end, it has already stocked up on large quantities of propane gas. ImageImage
23. German pharma and chemicals manufacturer Merck says it can switch its production processes from gas to oil and that it is "very well prepared" for any potential gas shortage.

See… and… ImageImage
24. Oil giant @ExxonMobil_EU say they have reduced natural gas consumption in their European refineries "by 65%, that's the equivalent gas used for powering about 2 million homes in Europe."

From their Q2 earnings call on July 29… HT @manuel66972261 Image
25. You may also remember @eni, the Italian energy giant that was extremely keen to pay for its gas in rubles back in May.

Just like @ExxonMobil_EU, they have also reduced gas consumption in their refineries by 70%.… HT @manuel66972261 Image
Here's an article from May on the ruble saga starring @eni.

Note: the ruble payments were probably economically irrelevant to a certain extent, see e.g. @PHonohan…, but it's still worth pointing out this is the same company.…
26. Also BP @bp_plc have reduced natural gas by almost 50% in their 🇩🇪🇪🇸 & 🇳🇱 refineries.

Strikingly, they say this "has not impacted output in any way"!

In economics lingo: not only is production not Leontief -- instead (close to) perfect substitutes!… Image
27. Here we go with yet another example from the Chemicals industry: specialty chemicals group Evonik say they can reduce their natural gas consumption by up to 40%.

How? They can substitute it with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

28. A case from the heavily gas-dependent aluminum industry.

German engineers are smart and inventive. Unfortunately the lobbyists pretended that they are not.

(Video in German, English video in next tweet)
Here’s an English version of the video. HT @GeorgZachmann

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More from @ben_moll

Aug 9
Deutschland ist zu sehr auf die Speicher-Füllstände fixiert.

Viel wichtiger: Gas sparen!

- 1% Speicherstand bringt 0,3% weniger nötiges Sparen
- umgekehrt: 1% Sparen ist 3,5% Speicherstand wert

Sparen ist also quasi mehr als 3 mal so wichtig wie die Speicherstände.
Herleitung der Faustregel am 🧵-Ende.

Hintergrund: 🇩🇪 muss über die nächsten 9 Monate bis Ende der Heizperiode genug Gas sparen dass am Ende die Speicher nicht leer sind

Jede Terawattstunde die heute im Speicher ist muss später nicht gespart werden. Aber wieviel macht das aus?
Beispiel: Deutschland muss bei den jetzigen Füllständen von 72% ca 25% Gas sparen. Wieviel weniger Gas müsste gespart werden wenn die Füllstände heute 82% wären also 10% mehr?

Antwort mit der 0,3 Faustregel: 10% höherer Speicherstand --> 3% weniger Sparen, also 22% statt 25%
Read 11 tweets
Jul 19
Over the last decades, many asset valuations have gone through the roof. This had large effects on the distribution of wealth.

But what does it mean for welfare? Was this a huge shift of resources toward the wealthy? Or just welfare-irrelevant "paper gains"?

🧵 on a new paper:
The paper is joint work with @AndreasFagereng, Matthieu Gomez, Emilien Gouin-Bonenfant @BlomhoffHolm and @GNatvik

Paper here:

Slides here:
In the economics debate, there are two opposing viewpoints:

On one hand, economists including @PikettyLeMonde @gabriel_zucman @dannyyagan & Saez have argued that wealth gains due to rising valuations are a big shift of resources toward the wealthy.
Read 31 tweets
Jul 18
Is economic modelling useful for guiding policy? Specifically epi-macro modeling during the pandemic?

UK Treasury chief economist Claire Lombardelli with a provocative take: "we could have constructed and estimated economic models all day long, and they would have been wrong"
Source… HT @toxvaerd1

#EconTwitter what do you think? In particular, those of you who have developed and worked with these epi-macro models?

@IvanWerning @EichMartin @SergioRebelo6 @alvafer64 @VC31415 @jimstockmetrics @michaelmina_lab @TertiltMichele
Read 9 tweets
Jun 25
Putin cutting gas to 🇩🇪 and other 🇪🇺 countries raises many important questions:

1. How to best dampen economic costs?

2. Given measures to date, will costs be smaller or larger than estimates from March/April?

3. What does this mean for Russia and the war?

A summary thread:
The thread will focus on the German case with (warning!) lots of references in German.

But many of the points should also carry over to other countries, say Italy.

I will also draw heavily on what many smart colleagues have written elsewhere.
Importantly, there remains a large amount of uncertainty, in particular with regard to what Russia will do.

Russia completely shutting down gas deliveries at any moment is a very distinct possibility.…
Read 41 tweets
Jun 5
Excellent thread with intuitive explanations why people claiming energy sanctions won't affect Putin's ability to wage war in Ukraine either haven't thought things through or are arguing in bad faith.

An example by @M_C_Klein: "Russia has lost access to many imports" and therefore "the oil boycott will hurt ordinary Europeans at least as much as it impairs Putin’s war effort. It should be understood mainly as a moral gesture rooted in self-denial"

An important point before proceeding: as @lugaricano writes, this is not an academic seminar where we discuss abstract points.

"Words can cost lives here."

Read 15 tweets
May 9
.@tom_krebs on a gas import stop: 1.6%*5 = 8%.

Only the 1.6% is @tom_krebs own number. The factor of 5 is from a totally different study from a totally different context (Fukushima).

Even the authors of the Fukushima study themselves say they would not make this calculation.
Where does this "production multiplier" of 5 come from?

From an important paper on supply chain disruptions after Fukushima by Vasco Carvalho, Makoto Nirei, Yukiko Saito & Alireza Tahbaz-Salehi @QJEHarvard which indeed finds substantial amplification.…
We asked Alireza Tahbaz-Salehi & Vasco Carvalho what they thought of the @tom_krebs_ calculation. Here is what they said:

"We ourselves would not use that Japan- and earthquake-specific number as a starting point for a quantitative assessment of energy disruptions in Europe."
Read 14 tweets

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