Reality Check: Germany’s Energiewende In Crisis

  • Date: 23/08/16
  • Roger Andrews, Energy Matters

Germany’s Energiewende is starting to unravel.

Germany is still pursuing its goal of shutting down its nuclear plants but refuses to shut down its lignite plants. It is slashing renewable energy subsidies and replacing them with an auction/quota system. Public opposition is delaying the construction of the power lines that are needed to distribute Germany’s renewables generation efficiently. Renewables investment has fallen to levels insufficient to build enough new capacity to meet Germany’s 2020 emissions reduction target. There is  no evidence that renewables are having a detectable impact on Germany’s emissions, which have not decreased since 2009 despite a doubling of renewables penetration in the electricity sector. It now seems certain that Germany will miss its 2020 emissions reduction target, quite possibly by a wide margin. In short, the Energiewende is starting to unravel.

This post discusses the Energiewende’s main problems under five subheadings, starting with arguably the most problematic:

Germany’s emissions are not decreasing

Figure 1, reproduced from Climate Change News , shows Germany’s total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources from 1990 through 2015 in million tons of CO2 equivalent:

Figure 1: Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions, 1990-2015 and its 2020 and 2030 emissions targets.

Electricity sector emissions (the red bars at the bottom) decreased between 1990, the baseline year, and 1999 but have remained essentially flat since then. Emissions from other sectors decreased between 1990 and 2009 but have also flattened out since then. As a result Germany’s emissions are about the same now as they were in 2009. The increase in renewables generation over this period has clearly not had the desired effect.

The electricity sector presently contributes only about 45% of Germany’s total emissions. 100% decarbonization of the electricity sector, which is already about 45% decarbonized if we add nuclear, would therefore in theory reduce total emissions by only another 25% or so. Yet Germany’s efforts to cut emissions continue to concentrate on the electricity sector.

The chances that Germany will meet its 2020 and 2030 emissions reduction targets do not look good.

Renewables have not reduced emissions

Figure 2 shows the growth in renewables penetration in Germany’s electricity sector since 1990. The data through 2013 are from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the 2014/15 data are from the Strom Report on Renewable Energy .

Figure 2: Growth in Germany’s renewable energy generation, 1990-2015

Since 1990 renewable energy generation has grown by a factor of over ten to the point where it now supplies 30% of Germany’s electricity. One would think that this would have had a visible impact on Germany’s electricity sector emissions, but as shown in Figure 3 it’s difficult to detect any impact at all.

Despite the 20% absolute increase in renewables penetration between 1999 and 2014 electricity sector emissions have barely changed over this period, and had it not been for the 2008/9 recession they would probably have increased.

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