Scholz channels Berlin Airlift spirit to gird Germans for winter

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during the German Employers' Day of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) in Berlin, Germany September 13, 2022. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

BERLIN, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Chancellor Olaf Scholz invoked the spirit of the Berlin Airlift on Tuesday to implore Germans that "the seemingly impossible can succeed", urging them to brace for a tough winter and to rise to the challenge of a shift in energy supply away from Russian gas.

He spoke to business leaders at Tempelhof Airport, which was the focal point of the Airlift between 1948 and 1949, when Western forces flew hundreds of thousands of tonnes of supplies into divided Berlin after the Soviets blocked rail and street access to the city's Western-occupied sectors.

Germany and other European countries are scrambling to secure energy supplies after Russia halted flows through a key gas pipeline. Moscow blames sanctions, imposed by the West after Russia invaded Ukraine, for impeding the pipeline's maintenance.

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"Of course we knew and we know that our solidarity with Ukraine will have consequences," Scholz said in a speech at the German Employers' Day.

Germany has filled its gas stores to some 88% of capacity to get through the winter and is looking to more sustainable long-term solutions.

Scholz said that as part of Germany's efforts to diversify its energy sources away from Russian gas, the country wants to "trigger a big boom" in the hydrogen industry, describing it as the gas of the future.

"The Berlin Airlift proves that the seemingly impossible can succeed if we courageously set big goals and work together. This makes me confident in the face of the great tasks that lie ahead of us," he said. "Let us tackle the task together!"

Scholz said Germany would have the infrastructure necessary to import all the gas it needs by the end of 2023 and pointed to the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals off the country's coast.

Scholz was in Canada last month to sign a deal to establish hydrogen supply chains, and Germany and Canada have been in discussions about building LNG terminals on the Canadian Atlantic coast within the next five years. read more

The promise of hydrogen as a fuel to help power vehicles and energy plants has been a talking point since the 1970s, but renewable/low-carbon versions of the fuel are currently too expensive for widespread use.

Proponents say infrastructure investment and more demand from transport, gas grids and industry will bring the cost down.

Most hydrogen used today is extracted from natural gas in a process that produces carbon emissions, which defeats the objective for many policymakers.

But there is potential to extract "green" hydrogen from water with electrolysis, an energy-intensive but carbon-free process if powered by renewable electricity.

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Reporting by Paul Carrel and Miranda Murray; editing by Matthias Williams, Alexandra Hudson

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