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.
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). (As a yard stick: this is about 2-3 times the value of countries like Saudi-Arabia, Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria or Thailand; or about half the amount of primary energy consumption of the entire African continent.) 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. 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:
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.
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. Power outages affecting German customers totaled only 23 minutes on average in 2004. Therefore, Germany has the most secure power supply system in Europe.
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. 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.
Policy framework, laws, regulations - recent developments
General information concerning energy and environmental policy:
In Germany, energy and environmental politics are strongly intertwined. The combined energy and climate protection program is only one obvious example. Many other regulations in the past to cut down the use of energy explicitly aimed at reducing environmental pollution at the same time.
In the political debate on costs and benefits of the promotion of renewable energy technologies the macro-economic and employment effects of the renewable energy industry became an important line of argumentation in favor of the legal framework set by the Renewable Energy Law. The Federal Ministry of Environment (BMU) regularly monitors these effects and reports that the employment contribution of renewable energies rose to 340.000 people in 2009 (Report on Short and Long-term Employment Effects of Renewable Energy Promotion in Germany, 02/2011 - in German).
Renewable Energy Law:
Most prominently, the German Renewable Energy Law of 2000 aims at considerably increasing the contribution of renewable energies in the electricity generation mix.
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. The coalition treaty also agreed upon reducing CO2 emissions by 80% until 2050. This commitment points out the challenge the German government faces.
The concept centers around three main aspects: promotion of RE, promotion of energy efficiency (especially in the building sector) and runtime extension of nuclear power plants in order to keep the financial burden of the customer as low as possible. It is estimated that the measures of the concept require ~20 Bio. € a year. This amount will be provided by an energy and climate fund that will be fed to a great extent by nuclear power plant operators.
Despite its high ambitions of transforming future energy supply in the direction of sustainability (ecologically as well as economically) and efficiency largely due to enhanced employment of renewable energies there is a lot of criticism in the public debate. Nonetheless, 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 prologue of the concept, besides highligthing environmental protection, repeatedly adresses the topics of economical competitiveness, growth and employment as key issues accompanying the transformation of the German energy system. This must be understood in the light of the parties‘ affinity for economical interests.
The energy concept 2050 is driven by some fundamental target values: reduction of CO2 emissions by 80-95% until 2050, increase of the share of RE in final energy consumption by 60% until 2050, increase of the share of RE in electricity generation by 80% until 2050. Primary energy consumption shall decrease by 50% until 2050 (baseline 2008), electricity consumption shall decrease by 25% until 2050. Building remediation rates shall be doubled to about 2% annually whereas energy consumption in the transport sector shall be reduced by 40% until 2050 (baseline 2005). Progress in theses areas will be scientifically monitored.
The concept covers in detail the following topics: 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).
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 cost-efficient extension of renewable energy capacities. It is recognized that Germany, in global comparison, 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 which supported massive growth in the RE sector in the past by providing investment security. 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 € (KfW) 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. Capacity extension through repowering measures is one focal area. Acceptance issues are being adressed through initiatives to reduce light emissions of wind turbines.
Future concentration on biomass energy strategies is regarded as promising mainly due to its wide application possibilities and storage abilities. Bio energy therefore shall be further promoted in all relevant sectors (heat generation, electricity generation, fuels). Special emphasis is placed on the improvement of a controlled electricity generation in order to improve the integration of fluctuating RE sources (like wind or solar) in the existing energy supply system. The German government aims at avoiding competition in use between bio energy and food and feeding stuff.
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 in 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 biomass for heating, electricity generation and transport should be considerably increased.
Energy efficiency (B):
The concept mentions the considerable saving potentials regarding energy and electricity in German households as well as in the public sector. Economical incentives, better information and counselling services should encourage individuals as well as companies to use energy efficiency potentials in order to reduce energy costs and environmental impacts.
Energy efficiency shall serve as the most important criterion for the tendering of public contracts. The market for energy efficiency services shall generally be promoted (e. g. through the federal agency for energy efficiency or an initiative promoting energy efficiency, transparent declaration of energy classes for end consumers). However, the most important sector for energy efficiency strategies is the building sector (see E).
Furthermore, industrial energy efficiency potentials are repeatedly stressed in the concept, especially in relation to topics like international competitiveness of the German economy and its inovativeness. In this context energy management systems and energy audits are mentioned, but no governmental regulations are planned. However, from 2013 onwards the German government will only grant preferential tariffs for industry customers (tax exemption from eco tax) that can proof their effort in the direction of energy efficiency (e. g. certified protocols of energy management systems in line with the international norms EN 16001, ISO 50001).
The stated target of energy efficiency measures in Germany is to make Germany one of the most energy efficient economies in the world. This aim is pursued with the help of an energy efficieny fund that adresses all the abovementioned areas.
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. Another point that is raised in the concept is the reduction of CO2 that is more realistically met with the help of nuclear power plants. Therefore, an extension of nuclear power plants‘ runtimes of an average 12 years is intended. This certainly represents the most widely (and most critically) discussed point of the energy concept 2050.
The concept sees as a major advantage of runtime extensions the possibility of financing measures in the RE field as well as in the field of energy efficiency. It is stressed that the question of final disposal of nuclear waste is not affected by the planned extension of nuclear power plants‘ runtimes. The exploration of salt stock Gorleben will be continued as an open outcome procedure from October 2010.
Regarding conventional fossil fueled power plants the concept stresses the importance of emissions trading in order to achieve the ambitious climate targets. Additionally, besides energy efficieny measures and the promotion of RE, carbon capture and storage technologies for energy intensive industries and fossil power plants will be further explored. While CCS is possibly an attractive export technology, the German government also plans to promote further research (pilot projects) with the aim to use the technology in the industrial sector in Germany. Competition between potential geothermy sites and CCS shall be ruled out with the help of an geothermy atlas that shall soon be compiled.
Net infrastructure (D):
This part mainly deals with the extension of net infrastructure and storage technologies for a better integration of RE in the German energy and electricity mix. In the future, many decentralized RE generation units will feed electricity into the net; many of them are much further away from customers as today. This results in a need for innovative technologies of transmissions that reduce losses to a minimum. A modern and efficient net infrastructure is recognized as a critical pre-condition for a rising share of RE in electricity generation.
Demand side management and smart grids, i. e. control of generation facilities, storage, demand and grid via modern information technology, are other topics being adressed in the energy concept. From 2011 onwards variable consumption tariffs shall be introduced according to load status.
A flexible electricity supply system is needed due to fluctuating energy carriers as wind and solar. The extension of storage capacities is another important point (e. g. development of pumped-storage power plants potentials in the alps; promotion of biomass as a feasible alternative; research and development into new technologies).
Energetic building remediation (E)
The energy concept lies special emphasis on the potential energy savings in the builiding sector accounting for 40% of German energy consumption and a third of the CO2 emissions. Due to insufficient thermal insulation and outdated heating systems still in use the potential savings in this sector are estimated to be huge. Remediation of the building sector therefore is seen as a central challenge in modernizing energy supply and reaching the climate protection goals. The goal is a nearly climate neutral building sector stock until 2050. This means that the buildings only need a very small energy amount that can be provided for by RE. To achieve these targets a doubling of the building remediation rate to about 2% annually is needed. House owners principally have the choice between taking measures in the building’s facade, improving the heating system or using RE. Until 2050 a reduction in primary energy house in the housing sector of about 80% is targeted. This way, consumption of fossil energy carriers would be substantially reduced and dependence of energy imports as well. Considerable investments are needed that amortize in the long run.
The electricty mobility strategy, as of May 2010, will be further pursued. It targets at 1 Mio. electricity driven vehicles on German streets until 2020 (and 6 Mio. until 2030). Furthermore, air traffic shall be included in the emissions trading scheme by 2012. The railway infrastructure shall be promoted.
Energy research (G)
A comprehensive energy research program, covering the time until 2020, shall be introduced in 2011 by the German government.
Energy supply in a wider context (H)
It is recognized in the concept that the transformation towards a reliable and environmentally friendly energy system can only be reached in a European or even international context. Different measures are adressed in the text, including promotion of net infrastructure, integration of European electricity and gas markets, emissions trading, efficiency criteria, cooperation with northern African countries.
The German government particularly points out its effort for a globally binding climate treaty.
Acceptance and transparency (I)
The concept takes account of the importance to enlarge the future consesus on energy politics through better information of the citizens.
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. 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.
In the same vein, the Green Party has presented an alternative energy concept that stresses that the massive expansion of renewables is perfectly possible without the use of nuclear power. The concept accuses the current government of many shortcomings that hinder the promotion of RE in Germany. For example, it is criticized that the planned runtime extensions hardly reveil any positive price effects on future electricity prices due to the practice of marginal pricing at the German power exchange in Leipzig.
Very prominently, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (an independent advisory body to the German government that currently consists of seven university professors of different field of studies), claims that the plans for runtime extensions of German nuclear power plants are a mistake since the promotion of RE technologies would require a more flexible power plant park. The expert board therefore argues that the succesful Renewable Energy Law could be countervailed by the plans to stabilise base load power plants in the medium term. Additionally, the experts conclude that the energy scenarios the German government takes as a reference point do not allow the assumption that nuclear power plants‘ runtime extensions would imply any economical or ecological advantages.
Although the German Advisory Council on the Environment, in principle, appreciates the Government’s push for a comprehensive energy concept, the experts claim that the plans of runtime extensions contradict the overall goal of achieving a reliable, economical and ecological future energy supply. Thus, the energy concept 2050 does not represent a coherent concept. Against this background, the harsh criticism found in several newspapers is much more plausible.
Institutional set up in the electricity sector
- ↑ cf. International Energy Agency (2010): Key World Energy Statistics, pp. 48-57.
- ↑ cf. ewi/gws/prognos (2010): Studie – Energieszenarien für ein Energiekonzept der Bundesregierung, p. 257.
- ↑ cf. International Energy Agency (2010): Key World Energy Statistics, pp. 48-57.
- ↑ cf. CDU/CSU/FDP (2009): Wachstum. Bildung. Zusammenhalt. Der Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und FDP, pp. 26-27.
- ↑ cf. Wuppertal Institut (2010): Thesen des Wuppertal Instituts zum geplanten Energiekonzept der Bundesregierung, pp. 5-8.
- ↑ cf. Wuppertal Institut (2010): Thesen des Wuppertal Instituts zum geplanten Energiekonzept der Bundesregierung, pp. 5.
- ↑ cf. Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen (2010): Energie 2050: sicher erneuerbar. Das grüne Energiekonzept jenseits von Uran, Kohle und Öl.
- ↑ cf. Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen (2010): Laufzeitverlängerung gefährdet den Erfolg der erneuerbaren Energien, p. 3.