Germany could replace around half of its natural gas imports from Russia this year in the event of a delivery stoppage, utility industry association BDEW said on March 18.

The group that represents 1,900 operators in gas, power and water supply said that according to its sources, Russia's share of Germany's gas supply in Jan-March, which is not officially published, stood at 40%.

Estimates from analysts and utilities last December had pegged the share at over 50%.

"As of today, around 50% of Russian natural gas can be replaced or substituted in the short term. This corresponds to about 20% of the annual gas requirement in Germany," said BDEW managing director Kerstin Andreae.

She did not say how the Russian gas could be replaced, but Germany has access to electricity derived from coal, nuclear energy, wind and solar sources. Some manufacturing cannot easily switch from gas, however.

Aware that any import ban, prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, would have significant consequences for the German economy, the industry sought to lessen its current dependence on fossil raw materials from Russia, she added.

A target to fill Germany's underground gas storage capacity of 24 billion cubic metres to the brim by the beginning of next winter would also become questionable, BDEW said.

Domestic gas use amounted to 100 billion bcm last year, down 6.4% from 2020.

BDEW said it currently sees potential to reduce and substitute gas use by 15% in the home heating sector while small businesses and service industries might save 10%, and heavy industry 8%, and more could be achieved in future.

In power generation, the study saw possible reductions of gas burning by around 36%, but no more. Combined power and heating plants must continue to run in order to bring heat arising from the process to customers, it said.

The government has revved up plans to bring liquefied natural gas (LNG) on board ships into the country but currently there are no terminals to receive them because of the legacy dependency on pipeline gas.

The crisis has raised the need to push ahead with wind and solar electricity, insulating buildings to save heat, power grid expansion and scaling up renewable hydrogen, BDEW said.