Germany’s energy consumption in 2017

Based on preliminary figures for 2017, electricity from renewables grew by a record amount. Coal power production also fell noticeably even as nuclear power fell – despite record exports. But one big news item may have been overlooked amidst all the new records. Craig Morris takes a look.

Wind turbines seen from the German highway in fields of yellow flowers

Germany passes its 2020 target for renewable energy three years early (Photo by Usein, edited, CC BY-SA 1.0)


Since the first nuclear reactor was shut down in 2003 as a part of Germany’s nuclear phaseout, electricity from renewables has increased almost twice as much as nuclear power has shrunk. Coal power – both from lignite and hard coal – has also dropped. The lights have stayed on.

Power exports also set a record for the fifth year in a row, reaching 53 TWh. Net power exports provide space for dispatchable conventional power generators (coal, gas, and nuclear). Renewable electricity has priority dispatch on the German grid, meaning that clean power is consumed before conventional power. Wind and solar in particular react to the weather, not to demand, so foreign demand cannot increase these sources.

Photo via CleanEnergyWire

Gas was once again slightly up in 2017 but has grown by more than a quarter since 2013. Hard coal has fallen by just over a quarter during the same time frame. The decrease in lignite is only 8% because renewables are not yet forcing those plants to ramp much.

Nuclear fell by nearly 11% in 2017. One reactor was shut down at the end of December, but that decrease was only slight. A bigger factor was the extended downtime at Brokdorf, a reactor that made history last year by being the first nuclear plant to shut down specifically because of damage caused by ramping. Other reactors, such as France’s Civaux, have also experienced difficulties possibly related to load-following, but ramping was never clearly reported as the cause for any other reactor.

Power production at all of Germany’s eight remaining reactors in 2017. The disappearance of Brokdorf from early February to late July reduced the fleet’s contribution considerably. (via Fraunhofer ISE)

The 29 TWh increase from renewables in 2017 sets an annual record. That growth is equivalent to around 5% of German power demand. If Germany were to continue to expand renewables at that rate, it would theoretically be 100% renewable in 20 years starting from zero.

But of course, Germany did not start 2017 at zero, but from around 30% renewables in 2016 as a share of generation (including exports). That number increased to 33% last year. More significantly, the target for 2020 is 35% renewables as a share of demand (excluding exports). Last year, Germany reached 36.5% renewables as a share of domestic demand. The country has thus surpassed its 2020 target three years early.

If Germany were to continue to add 5% renewables annually, it would reach 100% in only 13 years – by 2030. But this growth will stagnate over the next few years. The government recently adopted auctions to keep further growth in check; the volume tendered is limited, and time frames are generous. This year might not be so bad, but the wind sector is expected to dry up in 2019 and 2020 because so many recently awarded projects have until 2021 and 2022 to be completed. The share of renewables in 2020 may not look so different from 2017.

One main reason for this slowdown is technical constraints: going 100% renewable (or even 50%) is not trivial. Baseload plants will have to disappear completely even as sufficient dispatchable capacity remains available. Utility umbrella group BDEW is thus calling for more new gas turbines to be constructed (in German), and companies like Uniper (formerly Eon) is currently investigating its options (in German). So are municipal utilities, such as the one in Cottbus that recently announced plans to switch from locally produced lignite to natural gas (in German). Amidst all of the reports about records with renewables and power exports, this little news item deserves more attention: a municipal utility in one of Germany’s three largest lignite mining areas (Lausitz) is switching to gas.

Perhaps the flashiest news item came just after the turn of the year, when the new German power markets platform (SMARD) showed that renewables briefly made up roughly 100% of demand.

In the chart below from that website, the red line (demand) scrapes across the top of the blue area representing wind power, with other renewable energy sources below it. From around 4 AM to 6 AM on January 1, demand was low and wind power strong. However, the other two main power sector visualizations – the Agorameter and Energy-Charts.de – show the share of renewables closer to 90%. The differences come about because of guesstimates. Previous reports of 100% renewables turned out to be overstated (also read this), but perhaps the new platform is more reliable and Germany truly had 100% renewable power for two hours.

In any case, 2017 was a good year for renewables in Germany, and 2018 has gotten off to a good start!

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

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Craig Morris

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

16 Comments

  1. Graeme says

    Craig,
    Interesting article but quite mischievist and misleading. Early in November 2017 ‘your German renewables’ generated at 4% capacity. The only way power was provided was by other surrounding countries and overloading every other energy source. My information is that by 2020 Germany will have spent 1Tr euros on this crazy system and still be producing as much CO2 as 2005. Then there will be more electricity needed as the world goes electrical cars. Blindness to the clean power of Nuclear is destroying our societies.

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  3. heinbloed says

    An interesting new feature on Fraunhofer ISE: ” Percentage of full load”

    https://www.energy-charts.de/percent_full_load.htm?source=coal&year=2018

    Hard coal power plants are as efficient as off-shore wind power parks (it looks even a bit better for the off-shore I think)

    https://www.energy-charts.de/percent_full_load.htm?source=wind-offshore&year=2018

    Esp. Moorburg 1 and Moorburg 2 look very lousy, but they won’t be sold, for sure, which idiot …. 😉

    https://www.finanztrends.info/news/vattenfall-chef-fordert-geregelten-kohleausstieg-in-deutschland/

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  8. heinbloed says

    Discrepancy in gas usage reports

    Whilst Fraunhofer ISE reports for 2017 46TWh gas power for the public grid plus 20-25 TWh for industry

    https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/ise/de/documents/publications/studies/daten-zu-erneuerbaren-energien/Stromerzeugung_2017.pdf

    (in German on page 6/25)

    AGEB reports a total (gross) gas power production of 86 TWh for 2017

    https://www.ag-energiebilanzen.de/

    (see pdf “Strommix”)

    Now:

    AGEB claims that the total gas usage (not only power generation but the gross consumption) increased due to cold weather, heating with gas is popular in Germany.

    Fraunhofer doesn’t see that and Verivox just published the opposite: gas demand for heating consumption dropped because of the mild weather in 2017:

    https://www.verivox.de/presse/heizkosten-gasrechnung-so-guenstig-wie-seit-10-jahren-nicht-mehr-119182/

    (in German)

    So even if a very bad gas heating efficiency is taken for granted (80%) and a 3.4% of gas power efficiency loss (according to https://energy-charts.de/explanation.htm) there is a big gap of around 20-30% in gross gas usage between Ageb and Fraunhofer (limited to power production).

    Could it be that AGEB’s report 5/2017 ( https://www.ag-energiebilanzen.de/) is far-off, that Germany reduced the gross energy-consumption in 2017 esp. the CO2 emissions?

    The difference could be roughly 20-40% of the gross gas TWh claimed by AGEB in their annual report for 2017.
    Making the year 2017 – if Fraunhofer and Verivox are correct – a year with reduced gross energy consumption and reduced CO2 output provided the other energy sources are covered correctly.

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  10. Hi! I am pleased to read that Germany’s renewable power has doubled the rate which its coal power is being phased out. I hope to see more constructive developments in regards to the future of Energiewende and its policies in the future. The key is getting more EU countries to follow the German and Scandinavian model. I discuss more on Energiewende on my blog. Feel free to check out http://jakeroseliuseuropeanunion.weebly.com for more info!

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