The coal squeeze-out
Fraunhofer ISE has published its latest data on the German power sector, and the mild winter is clearly having an effect on power production in Germany. Because exports are down, so is coal power.
This week, the German government released emissions statistics from the energy sector for 2013, and they are up as expected. But still, no specific statistics are available for carbon emissions from the power sector alone. Nonetheless, the government itself reports that two factors are behind the upturn: the cold weather and the surge in coal power. Renewables International believes those two factors are actually closely related.
A few days ago, we reported on a major difference in power production and demand between the first two months of 2013 and 2014, but we did not have the figures for power trading at the time. Yesterday, Fraunhofer ISE updated its excellent PDF to fill that gap.
Net power production is down for nuclear (-0.5 TWh), lignite (-1.1), hard coal (-3.7), and gas (-3.0), but up for wind (4.1) and solar (1.4). Biomass is unchanged, whereas hydropower is also down (-1.4). In other words, non-hydro renewable electricity is up by 5.5 TWh, whereas conventional power is down by 8.3 TW. Hydropower does not make up the difference.
Lower power exports do. In the first two months of 2013, Germany exported around 6.5 TWh net, but that figure has dropped to around 2 TWh in the first two months of this year, a decrease of approximately 70 percent. In all likelihood, the mild winter is the main cause of this reduction in power exports. France in particular has a lot of electric heaters and is reliant upon imports from Germany to meet that demand. Less demand for heat therefore translates into lower power exports from Germany.
The situation is further evidence that exports are a major factor – and one that is almost never mentioned – in the production of coal power in Germany. Coal plants are currently being squeezed out of the market by renewables. Plant operators then offer their electricity at low cost, and neighboring countries begin buying more from Germany.
March is not providing any respite for the coal sector; it is one of the sunniest on record already. Over the past few days, for instance, solar has peaked at or above 20 GW, with domestic power demand only reaching around 70 GW.
It is noteworthy that the effect of power exports on German coal power production is so consistently overlooked, but there is probably a political reason. Critics of the Energiewende can use the situation as an example of the transition's failure. Likewise, proponents of the Energiewende can use the news to strengthen their call for a coal phaseout. No one benefits from pointing the finger at neighboring countries, but the fact remains that renewable electricity would offset more coal power if Germany did not export so much electricity. (Craig Morris)