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Carbon emissions from German power consumption to drop in 2014

You heard it here first, because the forecast is mine – CO2 emissions from German power consumption are likely to decline this year for a number of reasons. But the coal phaseout is unlikely to begin before 2022.

The best forecasts are those that merely describe what is happening today. Several current events described below indicate that carbon emissions from German power consumption will go down, albeit slightly, in 2014.

 - No German nuclear plant is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014, but the next one will go in 2015.
No German nuclear plant is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014, but the next one will go in 2015.

  1. Wind and PV installations continue to roar on. Installations of new wind turbines have returned to levels not seen for the past decade (2.5 GW), and although the German solar sector continues to complain about slower growth, the sector continues to install hundreds of MW per month (219 in November after 435 in October), so the country is likely to come in within its target range of 2.5-3.5 GW in 2014. The government, however, seems anxious to slow down wind power, and feed-in tariffs for PV continue to drop each month, which may slow down growth even further. Nonetheless, 4 GW of PV + wind collectively should be attainable as a low estimate, equivalent to more than 10 percent growth in installed wind + PV capacity.
  2. The weather will probably improve. 2013 was a particularly bad year both for wind and PV, each of which just barely managed to grow in terms of kilowatt-hours despite the clear growth in terms of kilowatts. A return to more average weather conditions would increase power production considerably. Therefore, we should have quite a bit more electricity from wind and solar.
  3. In 2014, the growth of wind and solar will increasingly offset power from coal. Up to now, renewable electricity has largely offset power from natural gas turbines in accordance with the merit order in Germany, but peak solar and wind power production is starting to dip even deeper into coal power production.
  4. No nuclear plant will be phased out this year. Coal power consumption will therefore be squeezed out temporarily – in 2015, the Grafenrheinfeld nuclear plant with a capacity of around 1,345 MW is scheduled to be taken offline for good.

 - Electricity is a relatively small source of heat in Germany, with electric heaters only making up 5.4 percent of the market in 2012 (from left to right, the legend reads: gas; heating oil; district heat; electricity, wood, and other solid fuels; and heat pumps).
Electricity is a relatively small source of heat in Germany, with electric heaters only making up 5.4 percent of the market in 2012 (from left to right, the legend reads: gas; heating oil; district heat; electricity, wood, and other solid fuels; and heat pumps).

The main caveat to this list is that coal power production may nonetheless remain stable or even rise slightly despite the lower demand for it in Germany because Germany’s neighbors are increasingly buying inexpensive coal power from Germany (a situation I described here). In other words, carbon emissions from the German power sector might increase because of consumption in the Netherlands, France, etc.

More importantly, a minor dip in carbon emissions in a particular year is less crucial than the overall trend. Don’t expect carbon emissions from the German power sector to go down dramatically until Germany starts a phaseout of coal power, which Industry Minister Gabriel says cannot happen at the same time as the nuclear phaseout – which ends in 2022.

Finally, we need to stop focusing solely on the power sector and start addressing oil consumption. The power sector only makes up around the fifth of German energy consumption, and oil is the main source of energy for heat and transport – which make up around 80 percent of total energy supply. (Craig Morris)

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4 Comments on "Carbon emissions from German power consumption to drop in 2014 "

  1. Jonathan Maddox - 19.04.2014, 07:46 Uhr (Report comment)

    District heating in Germany and Denmark is primarily cogeneration -- that is, reticulating the "waste" heat from electricity generation for the purpose of domestic heating. Modern systems would tend to be based around smaller-scale gas or biomass generators, but some coal-fired power stations also reticulate some of their waste heat. In communist-era East Germany even nuclear power stations (now all decommissioned) contributed to district heating in nearby towns.
    In Siberia I doubt very much that district heating would use hydroelectric energy, as hydroelectricity involves no waste heat all of the useful energy produced is electricity, which can be delivered directly to housing more cheaply than district heat ducting. Much more likely to be a gas-fired furnace, with or without electricity cogeneration.

  2. Nichol Brummer - 15.03.2014, 10:23 Uhr (Report comment)

    The graph seems to tell us that change in German households has consisted replacing gas burning by the burning of coal, wood and other solids.
    I wonder about this graph: is the percentage in the graph a percentage of households, or of energy? If it is a percentage of energy, then you expect old and inefficient households to take up a disproportionate part. Can that explain the surprising high and stable fraction taken up by oil-burning?
    Anyway: maybe it isn't quite right to use 'Entwicklung der Heizungsstruktur' as a title. As it omits probably the most important driver: better insulation and efficiency in general.

  3. misha sibirsk - 04.03.2014, 18:31 Uhr (Report comment)

    I don't understand the use of the term "district heating" here. I see it used in the table as apparently an energy source. However, it seems to me logical that it would be a mode of distribution. Here is Siberia, what I suppose is district heating is the standard delivery method for space heating and hot water in the city, to apartment buildings, but I understand, to some extent also to "the private sector:" individual, detached houses in town. However, I believe it to be powerd by hydro would be coal or neclear in other locations. Is it commonly assumed in C. Europe that area heating means from... I don't know, geothermal, say, or something like that? Otherwise, in terms of energy usage, it seems to me it still needs to be traced back to generation. One other thing - heating oil. Seriously? Germany is supposed to have an image of modernity and efficiency. I remember some decades ago, as students in a share house, we had an oil heater. It was warm, but expensive. I think it nearly cost more than the rent.

  4. David - 08.01.2014, 16:59 Uhr (Report comment)

    As a Dane I'm amazed at how prevalent the use of heating oil is in Germany according to the graphic. How can this be economic to the end-user considering the price rises of the last decade? Likewise the low extent of district heating looks to me like low hanging fruit. Why aren't the returns as good as those seen in Denmark? Here replacing oil with district heating cuts the energy costs in half or more and financing has never been cheaper. I don't believe German cities are any more spread out so what am I missing?

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