Did CO2 emissions from German power sector drop in 2013?
Power production from brown coal and hard coal rose last year, But consumption of brown coal was actually down – more power was made from less coal. Throw in the steep drop in natural gas consumption for power production, and it begins to look like carbon emissions from the power sector might be down. Since we, strangely, don't have any official estimates yet, our Thomas Gerke investigated further.
Yesterday, we discussed the difference between primary and final energy – between lumps of coal and power from those lumps. The news this month has mainly revolved around the uptick in German coal power in 2013, with the assumption being that carbon emissions therefore must have also risen.
The problem is that the slew of reports this month about the official figures from the AGEB are still based on the statistics published in mid-December. Apparently, the journalists had one eye on their Christmas vacation when the organization presented its statistics in the week before the holidays, and now that they are back to work, the "news" is being presented as a recent finding. But a source with contacts to the AGEB confirms that, indeed, the organization has not released any information since its press release three weeks ago – the one we reported on at the time.
Unfortunately, the AGEB does not provide any estimates for carbon emissions from the power sector in its report, merely indicating that overall carbon emissions from energy consumption (not just power) are probably up, but mainly due to the long heating season.
My colleague Thomas Gerke looked into the matter further. First, the official figures for primary energy consumption:
From this data, Gerke calculated CO2 emissions:
Note that we are talking not about percentages in the second chart, but millions of tons of CO2 emissions. More electricity from brown coal was produced last year, but less brown coal was consumed in the process to make that electricity, so carbon emissions from brown coal consumption should be down, not up. Likewise, consumption of natural gas in the power sector was also down, as was also the case for oil, which is marginal in the power sector anyway. The only primary energy source whose consumption increased was hard coal.
According to Gerke’s calculation, CO2 emissions from the power sector are likely to be down ever so slightly by 1.0 million tons. Given that the power sector was estimated to have emitted 317 million tons last year, this decrease is a mere 0.3 percent – but, if it is confirmed, it is a breach with the narrative that Germany's energy transition is raising carbon emissions.
Keep in mind, as the following chart shows, that renewable power would be offsetting more coal power were it not for Germany's neighbors (primarily the Netherlands and France), who have made the Germans the biggest power exporters on the continent. If Germany were an island, this coal would not have been consumed.
No one else has yet calculated such an outcome. Even Berlin-based think tank Agora Energiewende estimated a few days after publication of the AGEB's preliminary figures for 2013 that CO2 emissions from power production rose by around two tons (see slide 14 in German). As Gerke put it when submitting his chart, "We might fail epically with this calculation."
Or we might be right. And anyway, Thomas and I are just a couple of guys reverse-calculating carbon emissions based on the German Environmental Agency's method described in this PDF. It's really up to the AGEB to publish the official estimate. One wonders why they have not gotten around to it – perhaps they were as surprised at the findings as we are and need some time to recalculate emissions from primary energy consumption rather than final energy consumption. (Craig Morris)