Germany is edging ever closer to its national target of 65% renewable energy by 2030: even as new government regulations slow down the speed of the Energiewende, market forces and Mother Nature have ensured that throughout 2018, renewable energy will cover at least 38% of Germany’s total electricity consumption. L. Michael Buchsbaum takes a look.
Germany will still miss its 2020 greenhouse emissions targets, and it may not meet its 2030 goals either. The slow greening of the heat and transport sector in Germany remains a continued concern. However, overall emissions from energy are trending downwards as renewables overtake coal.
So far in 2018, renewables (on- and off-shore wind, solar PV, biomass and hydro) covered a full 38% of gross electricity consumption in Germany. The new figures tallied by the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) and the Federal Association of the Energy and Water Industry (BDEW) show an increase of 3% compared to the same period last year. In January, April and May 2018, renewables hit highs of 43% due to the extremely strong winds and the high number of hours of sunshine. Looking forward through the rest of the year, the groups believe that if wind demand stays at its average pace throughout 2018, the 38% renewable level will prevail.
During the first three quarters of 2018, almost 170 billion kilowatt hours (billion kWh) of electricity was generated by renewable sources. This is a sharp increase compared to last year’s 155.5 billion kWh in the same period. Moreover, renewables over this stretch were nearly on par with electricity generated from lignite and hard coal, which was around 172 billion kWh. Indeed, coal’s share of the energy mix was down almost 7% from last year, while natural gas also fell by almost 8% percent to around 59 billion kWh.
Overall, onshore wind energy continued to be the largest source of renewables during this period, generating almost 63 billion kWh, an increase of more than 13% over the same period last year. Likewise, solar PV generated more than 41 billion kWh over this period, jumping nearly 16% year over year. In the third and fourth places, respectively, were biomass with around 34 billion kWh (steady since last year) and hydropower, where there was a decline of almost 10 percent to around 13 billion kWh due to persistent drought.
Bringing up the rear for renewables’ share, offshore wind contributed around 13 billion kWh of overall power generation. However, this is extremely impressive considering that just four years ago, offshore wind was considered a niche technology. Today offshore wind is poised for major increases in the near term, and is seen by some experts as a potential renewable baseload.
“Renewables are clearly in the fast lane, while the contribution of conventional energy sources to cover gross electricity consumption is steadily declining. However, there is still a lot of work to do to reach the target of 65% renewables by 2030,” said Stefan Kapferer, Chairman of the BDEW Management Board. He is concerned that Germany’s energy grid may be the most fragile part of the overall system, especially with regards to offshore wind. “Everything must be done to press ahead with the urgently needed expansion of the North-South grid corridors and to create adequate framework conditions for the operation of electricity storage systems. These are prerequisites for making full use of the electricity generated from renewables and achieving the climate goals,” he said.
Indeed, Germany’s renewables have enjoyed a record setting run throughout 2018. By the end of June, they had produced enough to power every household in the country for a year as their combined power output hit a record 104 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), according to energy firm E.On. Year over year, that was 9.5 per cent more than in 2017 and a third more than three years ago, the company said, citing in-house analysts who supply data to its sales teams.
Energy consumption is expected to fall further next year. According to initial estimates by energy market research group AG Energiebilanzen (AGEB), the country’s energy consumption will likely drop by almost five percent over the entire year due to higher energy prices, warm weather and increasing efficiency, outweighing solid economic growth and a population increase.
So far, while renewables have increased and energy consumption has fallen, German CO2 emissions have largely stagnated. This is partially because transportation emissions have continued to rise. In addition, an increasing amount of Germany’s energy is simply exported to neighboring countries. A case in point is RWE’s sale of power generated from coal mined at the giant Hambach and other open pit mines to Belgium.
But this year, partially because of renewables’ sharp increase, Germany’s CO2 emissions are on course for their largest drop since the 2009 recession. Indeed, after remaining virtually unchanged for the four previous years, AGEB calculates a decline of about 7%. Ominously, another factor involved in this drop are the higher temperatures across Europe. The trend has likely continued throughout October, as Germany’s National Meteorological Service (DWD) reported an “exceedingly sunny and very warm” month. The DWD also said the first ten months of the year have never been as warm as in 2018, since German-wide weather measurements started in 1881.
However, this does not mean the nation is on track for further emissions reductions in the coming years. Hans-Joachim Ziesing, a member of the federal government’s independent Energiewende monitoring expert commission, said the drop was largely caused by one-off effects. While certainly good signs, Germany still remains short of its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. “I would warn against calling this a trend,” Ziesing said. “I would also warn against believing that we are now taking big steps towards the 2020 climate targets. The gap is far too large to get there on the basis of this year’s developments.”