BRUSSELS - The European Union's (EU) energy ministers on Tuesday agreed to extending measures to voluntarily reduce gas consumption by a target of 15 percent across the bloc until March 2024.
Reducing gas consumption helps fill reserves, secure more energy supplies and "keep prices down," Swedish Energy Minister Ebba Busch, who chaired the talks, said in a statement.
EU countries pledged last summer to cut their consumption by at least 15 percent compared to the average of the past five years after Russia drastically reduced exports to the bloc.
The savings target, which was exceeded in recent months with a demand reduction of over 19 percent on average across the EU, was set to expire at the end of March.
The renewed agreement also contains a provision, should a security of supply crisis occur, to make the voluntary consumption reduction target mandatory.
Natural gas prices rose dramatically last year due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
At its peak, wholesale prices were more than EUR 300. Currently gas is traded for around EUR 45 at the EU's reference trading hub.
Prices dropped noticeably after gas shortages could be avoided thanks to replacing Russian fuels with with imports from elsewhere and cutting demand.
Continuing to save gas should also help to refill gas storage facilities to 90 percent by November, the European Commission said when proposing the extension.
"The significant reductions in gas consumption helped to ensure security of supply last winter and stabilize energy prices," said Franziska Brantner, parliamentary state secretary in the German Economy Ministry. The goal, she said, was to make sure this would also be the case next winter.