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Target for 2020

Germany not on target for carbon emissions

German Renewables Professor Volker Quaschning recently produced a chart showing that Germany will have made no progress in reducing carbon emissions from the power sector by 2022, when the last nuclear plant is shut down, unless coal power is ramped down simultaneously. He is part of a growing movement calling for a coal phaseout.

As I recently explained, carbon emissions from the power sector are likely to drop in 2014 but remain more or less stable over the next eight years as renewable electricity largely replaces nuclear power and electricity from natural gas, but only moderately offsets coal power. Quaschning’s chart visualizes that stagnation well (source).

Volker Quaschning

At the bottom, we see power from fossil fuels and power imports. The red line in the middle indicates that the share of electricity from fossil fuels is unlikely to start decreasing below the level of 1990 until the 2030s. Renewables will, however, manage to replace nuclear power during the phaseout.

Here, Quaschning is analyzing the new government’s target corridors, as the green arrows indicating 40-45 percent renewable power (not energy) by 2025 and 55-60 percent by 2035 indicate. The overall gist of his argument is that the government’s new targets – basically, just an unnecessary rewording of the old ones – will not keep the country on target for its carbon emission reductions.

The next carbon target is a 40 percent reduction by 2020 relative to 1990. In 2012 (we are still waiting for official estimates for 2013), Germany had already reduced its emissions by 25.5 percent, leaving an additional 14.5 percentage points to cover over the next eight years – nearly two percentage points per year.

I could point out, of course, that Quaschning is conflating power from fossil fuels with carbon emissions. As Renewables International recently explained, carbon emissions from the power sector could be slightly down in 2013 despite the uptick in coal power production. Nonetheless, our estimate of a 0.3 percent reduction is nothing to celebrate in light of the need to reduce emissions by two percentage points annually.

Of course, a shift from coal power to power from natural gas (roughly half the CO2 emissions per unit of energy from coal power) could reduce emissions dramatically, but two obstacles would need to be overcome: the low carbon price and the macroeconomic dilemma – Germany has domestic brown coal but practically no natural gas, roughly 40 percent of which is imported from Russia.

Essentially, if Germany does not reduce carbon emissions from the power sector, all of the reductions would then have to come from transport and buildings – not a problem, but also not exactly what has characterized the Energiewende up to now. Or, to quote Quaschning, because there has been so little ambition in the heat sector, a reduction of carbon emissions in Germany is nothing more than a fantasy. (Craig Morris)

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6 Comments on "Germany not on target for carbon emissions "

  1. heinbloed - 17.01.2014, 00:19 Uhr (Report comment)

    This winter/heating season the emissions in Europe could dramatically, the NASA has published charts showing an abnormal temperature over Europe and the USA


    Thee red surfaces are hot spots and blue surfaces are cold spots, check picture 2 for the USA

  2. heinbloed - 13.01.2014, 12:09 Uhr (Report comment)

    Whilest this page is about the German Energiewende we should have a look at other countries as well. Spain slashed their CO2 output dramatically whilest closing an atomic power plant (Gerona) and increased the usege of RE:


    The last 2 winters in Europe have been colder than usual (heating degree days), from Belgium we hear that this winter is on the very mild side so far, gas usage for home heating and electricity generation is down considerably:

    So a similar pattern can be expected for Germany, maybe partly outhweighed by electricity exports.
    And some good news from Ireland which has a lot of electric space heating: wind power is up, gas usage down and electricity prices reduced :

  3. Jörg Haas - 13.01.2014, 08:46 Uhr (Report comment)

    Thanks for the post. The figure by Volker Quaschnig is indeed very revealing. Although I wish he had given some footnotes on the assumptions (e.g. on overall electricity demand growth). You correctly point out that Quaschnig is conflating fossil fuel power production with emissions. Which is not correct, as we might get a larger share of natural gas which plays much better with renewables than lignite and nuclear plants. A very helpful graphic showing the inflexibility of nuclear and lignite plants is produced by Fraunhofer ISI here http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/downloads-englisch/pdf-files-englisch/news/electricity-prices-and-production-data-2013.pdf/view (page 9).
    For those of us interested in a real Energiewende that reduces emissions, the main battles are not only about expanding renewables, but also about pushing back lignite (and hard coal) in favour of more flexible gas capacities.

  4. heinbloed - 12.01.2014, 21:47 Uhr (Report comment)

    @ James Wimberley:
    According to the boss of RWE, Germany's second largest utility, they can ramp up and down their coal power plants within 1/2 hour by 5 GW, running them at a maximum output of over 10 GW:

    " Die Leistung unserer Kraftwerksflotte im rheinischen Revier mit einer Gesamtkapazität von mehr als 10.000 Megawatt können wir heute innerhalb von 30 Minuten um rund 5000 Megawatt anheben oder senken, je nach Einspeisung der Erneuerbaren. "
    See page 2 here:

    He also stated in this interview that it isn't economical viable to build their second efficient lignite power plant in Niederaussem which is still in the planning phase:
    " Richtig ist aber auch, dass bei heutigen Strompreisen die Margen deutlich geschrumpft sind. Eine Investition in weitere Kraftwerke rechnet sich mit heutigen Preisen deshalb nicht. Das gilt auch für das Kraftwerk BoAplus [geplantes, besonders effizientes Kraftwerk in Niederaußem, d.Red.], das sich zurzeit im Genehmigungsverfahren befindet. "
    This new lignite power plant is the very left one here on the map below Krefeld and left of Koeln(Cologne):
    Unless we get subsidies - so he said.....
    You can follow the ramping at the transparency page:
    http://www.transparency.eex.com/en/Voluntary Commitment of the Market Participants/Power generation/Previous-day-generation

  5. James Wimberley - 12.01.2014, 17:56 Uhr (Report comment)

    How would Quaschning's 2025 scenario (45% renewables, 55% fossil, mostly coal) play out financially? The coal plants would need to be be ramping up and down all the time to backstop the variations in wind and solar output, for which they are not designed. At present German coal plants can keep running all the time by exporting - dumping - output at very low prices. This is unlikely to be a sustainable model on an even larger scale the prices will below viability, and/or the export markets will be capped to protect the producers of the importing countries from "dumping". The natural and technically partner of large-sccale wind and solar is gas, and this logic will work its way through.

  6. heinbloed - 12.01.2014, 16:33 Uhr (Report comment)

    Well, things change on a monthly base, news get in before the 'olds' are published.
    RWE interviewed in december 2013 in the Handelsblatt announced that their ultr-modern lignite power plant Niederaussem 9 1.1 GW) won't be build. Unless being subsidised ....
    Here on the map in green, left of Cologne and below Krefeld:
    It is still contained in the Wikipedialist as well:


    Things change faster than we can follow. The shares of RWE made another dip:


    The head quarter moved already to Poland, maybe electricity generation soon follows.

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