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Germany Energy Situation

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When looking at the energy/electricity situation of developing countries around the world it is always helpful to have in mind a reference point for a better understanding, analysis and judgement of the respective challenges in the case at hand. The country situation Germany should help to provide this critical positioning.

This article first briefly discusses the present energy situation in Germany in general terms, before adressing in more detail the electricity sector and recent political endeavours that link climate protection and long-term sustainable energy supply.

Energy situation

Primary energy consumption

Primary energy denotes the state of energy before any conversion or transformation process towards a more valuable energy form has taken place (e. g. solar energy, wind energy, fossil fuels, hydro power, nuclear fuels, biomass etc.). Primary energy consumption relates to the entire amount of primary energy used by an economy in a certain time period (usually a year).

In Germany, primary energy consumption in 2009 amounted to 13398 PJ (= 3720 TWh). Although there has been a sharp decline in petroleum product consumption since 1995 (-14,4%), it still remains the most important primary energy carrier representing about a third of total primary energy consumption. Similarily, coal consumption has been decreasing during the last 10-15 years, but remains an important primary energy carrier. A substitution process in the direction of an increasing gas consumption has accompanied the decrease in consumption of the beforementioned energy sources.

Germany is a net importer of primary energy with an increase of imports from 57% in 1990 to 70% in 2008.[1] This situation underlines the high degree of energy dependence the German state faces. The rising import quotas can largely be attributed to a rising demand of gas and substitution processes of German coal through coal from international markets.

The following diagram offers an overview of the share of different energy carriers in primary energy consumption:

Primary energy consumption.neu.JPG

The following energy flow diagram offers insight into the shares of different sectors in total primary energy consumption in 2009. Very prominently, it visualizes the high degree of dependence on energy imports (~70%). Furthermore, it shows that approximately 25% of primary energy consumption are lost in conversion processes. Out of the 13398 PJ of primary energy consumption only 8714 PJ are available for final energy consumption. Final energy consumption is quite evenly distributed among the three sectors industry, transport and households. Only trade and services represent a minor share.

Energy Flow.JPG

Electricity situation

Needless to say, in comparison to developing and even emerging countries the German electricity sector is very proficient and works reliably. Power outage rates rank among the lowest in the world .


Currently, the installed capacity of German power plants lies in the range of 143,3 GW electrical power. This means if capacity factors were assumed to be 100% (i. e. all power plants are in use throughout the whole year) the maximum amount of electricity generation would be 1255.3 TWh/year (143,3 GW x 8760h). Clearly, this is unrealistic due to high variable costs of power plants that are specifically designed to serve intermediate and peak loads only. Additionally, power plants depending on renewable energies like wind or solar radiation cannot decide when to generate.

In reality, German electricity generation amounted to 597 billions kWh (= 597 TWh) in 2009 which lies in the range of emerging countries like Brazil or India.[2] This shows that the true value of the aggregated average capacity factor lies around 50%. Whereas nuclear, lignite and hydro power plants virtually run all the time to supply the base load, other electricity plants (such as coal and gas) only serve intermediate load. Peak load is mainly provided for by pumped-storage power plants and oil-fired power plants. To produce the abovementioned amount of electricity, fuels with an energy content of 5227 PJ were used in German power plants (~39% of primary energy consumption).

Electricity generation in Germany is still based to a very large extent on coal. The generation mix in 2009 consisted of 28% from nuclear power plants, 26% from lignite, 18% from coal, 11% from gas and about 16% from renewable energies. The following diagram provides a brief overview of the situation. It should be noted that the share of renewable energies in electricity generation is considerably greater than in primary energy consumption. This can largely be attributed to the incentives created by the German Renewable Energy Law of 2000.

Electricity generation.neu.JPG


Policy framework, laws, regulations

General information concerning energy and environmental policy:

In Germany, energy and environmental politics are strongly intertwined. For instance, there have been a number of regulations in the past to cut down the use of energy explicitly aimiong to reduce environmental pollution. Energy efficiency …

Most prominently, the German Renewable Energy Law of 2000 aims at considerably increasing the contribution of renewable energies in the electricity generation mix.

Renewable Energy Law:

Energy concept 2050:

The coalition treaty between CDU/CSU and FDP of 2009 lied the foundation for the recently adopted energy concept (end of September 2010) as it entailed the announcement a concept would be published in the course of 2010 formulating guidelines for a clean, reliable and affordable future energy supply based on different scenarios. Despite its high ambitions of transforming future energy supply in the direction of sustainability and efficiency largely due to enhanced employment of renewable energies there is a lot of criticism in the public debate. Nontheless, in terms of the time horizon of planning the concept can be regarded as a novelty in German energy politics because it adresses the next 40 years – roughly a power plant’s life span.

The concept deals with renewable energies (A), energy efficiency (B), nuclear and fossil power plants (C), net infrastructure (D), energetic building remediation (E), mobility (F), energy research (G), energy supply in a wider context (H), acceptance and transparency (I).

  • Main issues:

Renewable energies (A):

At the core of the concept lies the transformation of the German energy supply sector to a low carbon economy based on renewable energies. It is recognized that Germany already sets a good example in promoting renewable energies in the electricity generation mix. As backbone of this positive development serves the Renewable Energy Law. The biggest potential for future increase in renewable power plant capacities is seen in the wind energy sector (especially offshore) and in the further promotion of biomass energy. As an incentive to invest in offshore wind energy plants the concept proposes a subsidy program of 5 billion € that should help the first ten large scale wind parks from 2011 onwards. The construction of onshore wind energy parks shall be promoted by reviewing the existing spatial planning plans and providing sufficient construction sites.

To further promote renewable energies in Germany the energy concept 2050 envisages an unlimited preferential feed-in regulation for RE as in the past this served as a powerful incentive mechanism. At the same time high subsidies will be reduced in order to garuantee a market driven promotion of RE technologies that will help to keep the sector internationally competitive in the long run due to incentives for constant improvement and innovation. For this reason subsidies regarding PV have already been substantially reduced this year (2010).

The potential of biogas and solid biomass to compensate for fluctuating electricity generation from PV and wind is explicitly mentioned. Therefore, the usage of biomas for heating, electricity generation and transprot should be considerably increased. 

Nuclear and fossil power plants (C):

While fully recognizing the need for a fundamental shift in the German electricity supply mix in the future, the concept states that in the medium term nuclear power plants are still needed to avoid sharp increases in electricity prices. Therefore, an extension of nuclear power plants‘ runtimes of an average 12 years is intended. This certainly represents the most critical point of the energy concept 2050.

  • Criticism:

Probably the most critical remarks in the current public debate about the energy concept 2050 concern the future use of nuclear power plants in Germany, i. e. the planned average runtime extension of 12 years. Independent research institutions, like the Wuppertal Institute for example, criticize the government’s plans of placing too much emphasis on the question of runtime extensions.[3] This way, the institute argues, possible scenarios for a future sustainable energy supply are narrowed down to a single scenario that postulates CO2 emission reductions of up to 85% until 2050 (to the baseline of 1990) are not achievable without the extension of nuclear power plants‘ runtimes.

The Wuppertal Institute states that the ambitious climate protection goals are equally achievable without extending the use of nuclear power and without the application of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.[4]

Institutional set up in the electricity sector

  1. cf. ewi/gws/prognos (2010): Studie – Energiekonzept für ein Energiekonzept der Bundesregierung, p. 257.
  2. cf.International Energy Agency (2010): Key World Energy Statistics, pp. 48-57.
  3. cf. Wuppertal Institut (2010): Thesen des Wuppertal Institus zum geplanten Energiekonzept der Bundesregierung, pp. 5-8.
  4. cf. Wuppertal Institut (2010): Thesen des Wuppertal Institus zum geplanten Energiekonzept der Bundesregierung, pp. 5.