German power sector: coal and nuclear down, renewables up in 2017

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Electricity from renewables in Germany grew by a record amount, but one big news item may have been overlooked amidst all the new records.

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Germany passes its 2020 target for renewable energy three years early (Photo by Usein, edited, CC BY-SA 1.0)
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Energy Transition

Based on preliminary figures for 2017, electricity from renewables grew by a record amount. Coal power production also fell noticeably even as nuclear power fell – despite record exports. But one big news item may have been overlooked amidst all the new records. Craig Morris takes a look.

Germany passes its 2020 target for renewable energy three years early (Photo by Usein, edited, CC BY-SA 1.0)

Since the first nuclear reactor was shut down in 2003 as a part of Germany’s nuclear phaseout, electricity from renewables has increased almost twice as much as nuclear power has shrunk. Coal power – both from lignite and hard coal – has also dropped. The lights have stayed on.

Power exports also set a record for the fifth year in a row, reaching 53 TWh. Net power exports provide space for dispatchable conventional power generators (coal, gas, and nuclear). Renewable electricity has priority dispatch on the German grid, meaning that clean power is consumed before conventional power. Wind and solar in particular react to the weather, not to demand, so foreign demand cannot increase these sources.

Photo via CleanEnergyWire

Gas was once again slightly up in 2017 but has grown by more than a quarter since 2013. Hard coal has fallen by just over a quarter during the same time frame. The decrease in lignite is only 8% because renewables are not yet forcing those plants to ramp much.

Nuclear fell by nearly 11% in 2017. One reactor was shut down at the end of December, but that decrease was only slight. A bigger factor was the extended downtime at Brokdorf, a reactor that made history last year by being the first nuclear plant to shut down specifically because of damage caused by ramping. Other reactors, such as France’s Civaux, have also experienced difficulties possibly related to load-following, but ramping was never clearly reported as the cause for any other reactor.

Power production at all of Germany’s eight remaining reactors in 2017. The disappearance of Brokdorf from early February to late July reduced the fleet’s contribution considerably. (via Fraunhofer ISE)

The 29 TWh increase from renewables in 2017 sets an annual record. That growth is equivalent to around 5% of German power demand. If Germany were to continue to expand renewables at that rate, it would theoretically be 100% renewable in 20 years starting from zero.

But of course, Germany did not start 2017 at zero, but from around 30% renewables in 2016 as a share of generation (including exports). That number increased to 33% last year. More significantly, the target for 2020 is 35% renewables as a share of demand (excluding exports). Last year, Germany reached 36.5% renewables as a share of domestic demand. The country has thus surpassed its 2020 target three years early.

If Germany were to continue to add 5% renewables annually, it would reach 100% in only 13 years – by 2030. But this growth will stagnate over the next few years. The government recently adopted auctions to keep further growth in check; the volume tendered is limited, and time frames are generous. This year might not be so bad, but the wind sector is expected to dry up in 2019 and 2020 because so many recently awarded projects have until 2021 and 2022 to be completed. The share of renewables in 2020 may not look so different from 2017.

One main reason for this slowdown is technical constraints: going 100% renewable (or even 50%) is not trivial. Baseload plants will have to disappear completely even as sufficient dispatchable capacity remains available. Utility umbrella group BDEW is thus calling for more new gas turbines to be constructed (in German), and companies like Uniper (formerly Eon) is currently investigating its options (in German). So are municipal utilities, such as the one in Cottbus that recently announced plans to switch from locally produced lignite to natural gas (in German). Amidst all of the reports about records with renewables and power exports, this little news item deserves more attention: a municipal utility in one of Germany’s three largest lignite mining areas (Lausitz) is switching to gas.

Perhaps the flashiest news item came just after the turn of the year, when the new German power markets platform (SMARD) showed that renewables briefly made up roughly 100% of demand.

In the chart below from that website, the red line (demand) scrapes across the top of the blue area representing wind power, with other renewable energy sources below it. From around 4 AM to 6 AM on January 1, demand was low and wind power strong. However, the other two main power sector visualizations – the Agorameter and Energy-Charts.de – show the share of renewables closer to 90%. The differences come about because of guesstimates. Previous reports of 100% renewables turned out to be overstated (also read this), but perhaps the new platform is more reliable and Germany truly had 100% renewable power for two hours.

In any case, 2017 was a good year for renewables in Germany, and 2018 has gotten off to a good start!

Source: Energy Transition. Reproduced with permission.

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32 Comments
  1. George AD 11 months ago

    Still a long way to go with so much brown coal in the mix.

    • Joe 11 months ago

      Yes, and still the Lignite mining goes on pretty much business as usual. ‘Hambach’ is an environmental and human abomination.

    • Ren Stimpy 11 months ago

      A steady 7% reduction in brown coal since 2013, and a better reduction of hard coal and nuclear in the same period.

      https://www.energy-charts.de/energy.htm?source=all-sources&period=annual&year=all

      • George AD 11 months ago

        In the midst of a climate crisis, less nuclear is not a good thing.

        (This is not the same as saying we should have new nuclear plants. But these plants exist and it makes sense to remove coal preferentially.)

        • Alistair Spong 11 months ago

          You forget the reason they are being shut down is that they were no longer deemed safe

          • Jan Veselý 11 months ago

            The reason was even simpler. General German population simple HATES nuclear power. They ever did. OTOH coal was a local resource, local job maker.

          • Ian 11 months ago

            With the close-down of nuclear what do the German’s do with all the legacy nuclear waste?

          • HansB50 11 months ago

            They stopped also the further building of a final storage compound out of political reasons and distributed the nuclear waste in about 10 above earth storage facilities around the country.
            The politicians then declared that they will now search again for principles (Germany is always good in principles ) and maybe with the help of this principles select a new storage location.
            However due to the green influence and generation of fear (German Angst) in the population this may be last some hundred years!

          • nakedChimp 11 months ago

            Well, you didn’t live through Chernobyl, where you couldn’t eat stuff from the outdoors for a year or more. Most of the Germans did.
            So don’t tell those people what they should think and do about nuclear power.

            And Merkel HAD to revert the renaissance of nuclear right after Fukushima, as otherwise the CDU/CSU would have lost the next election majority.
            After Fukishima no one in Germany believed that nuclear was safe, not even the high-tech Japanese had it under control obviously

            Blame this on the nuclear people, not the greens please.
            You guys fucked up badly and can’t even stand up to it.
            Pathetic.

          • heinbloed 11 months ago
          • heinbloed 11 months ago

            True, the atom power plants in Germany were designed to last 25 years.

          • HansB50 11 months ago

            This is a wrong green statement !
            The first operational permit was for 25 years, after that the german reactor security commission (RSK) had to review security and if ok , extend the operational permit for further 10 years and so on . In Germany was no nuclear power plant, where the RSK denied further operation.
            The reason for switching off, was the Tsunami in Fukushima. Our chancellor Ms. Dr. Merkel had the fear that also in Germany a Tsunami would come up the Rhine and Danube River like in Japan.
            Also a regional election was before, where the Greens could reach a majority and Merkels party loose power.
            So she declared that she now has found out that nuclear power is dangerous (Dr. Merkel has a degree in Quantum physics and did not know this before!).

          • heinbloed 11 months ago

            Liar.

            ALL former DDR reactors were banned from operating after the reunification, so was Kalkar in the West, Kruemmel, Gundremmingen A and many others.

            The reason for phasing out the German atom power plants was the will of the people, the phase out was voted for in the year 2000:

            http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/briefings/climate/2014/IPCC-WGIII-Energiewende.pdf

            ————

            Since you are lying with every posting of yours but not providing any link/back-up I consider you to be a sock puppet, an atom clown.

            By-by.

          • Tobias Merz 11 months ago

            It’s true though; Fukushima triggered the closure of the Nukes. Just after they’ve got an lifetime extension, quit ironic.
            And for the waste; there’s just no safe storage, Germany is to densely populated. Try find an 100% dry mineshaft without salt but in hard rock. And concrete which will last for a couple of centuries.

          • Joe 11 months ago

            Nuclear power was always a mistake. The risk of reactor accidents is always there and we have seen these play out in the past. The issue of Nuclear Waste has conveniently just been continually kicked down the road for the following generations to deal with. I mean who these days can create waste and pollution and just leave it for the ‘future’ to someday deal with and come up with a solution…its criminal!

          • heinbloed 11 months ago

            Kruemmel was closed a long time before Fukushima, so was Kalkar and many others.
            That had nothing to do with Fukishima, these reactors got no operating permissing resp. lost it due to severe deadly accidents incl. release of radiactive material like for example Gundremmingen A:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gundremmingen_Nuclear_Power_Plant

            The thorium reactor was closed before Fukushima(after Chernobyl) :

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greifswald_Nuclear_Power_Plant

            The East German reactors were closed as well more than 20 years before Fukushima since they couldn’t follow the safety guidelines, their operating permit was withdrawn by CDU environment minister Toepfer who then became head of the UNEP:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greifswald_Nuclear_Power_Plant

            —————-

            If you come here make sure you have your gun loaded, Tobias Merz.
            Always link your claims, otherwise you’ll be outed as an atom clown firing duds and spreading lies.

            More operating atom power plants were closed in Germany before Fukushima than had been after Fukushima, so far.

          • Tobias Merz 11 months ago

            Fukushima happened on March 11th 2011. On March 14 the German Government killed the planned extension for the allowed operating time for all nuclear power plants, which they just pushed through the government half a year earlier.

            In the following month the government shut down 8 plants: Biblis A, Biblis B, Brunsbüttel, Isar 1, Krümmel, Neckarwestheim 1, Philippsburg 1 und Unterweser.

            And it decided to get out of nuclear power production all together until 2022.

            https://www.planet-wissen.de/technik/atomkraft/grundlagen_der_atomkraft/atomkraft-fukushima-100.html

    • Steve Woots 11 months ago

      Yeah, my first thought was the brown coal. I’m no fan of nukes, but if I had both I’d shut down the brown (and maybe the black) before I shut off the nukes.

      • Bristolboy 11 months ago

        That is what has happened in the UK. Result – the UK has a much smaller carbon intensity than Germany, despite a smaller percentage of renewables.

        • heinbloed 11 months ago

          Yeah, lignite power imports aren’t counted in the UK’s balance sheet.
          Since a couple of years coal power is imported into the UK.
          But not counted in the carbon balance sheet.

  2. Robin_Harrison 11 months ago

    It may be my shirt torn memory playing up but I’m sure I remember forecasts of stagnation for renewables in 2017. It didn’t happen, and with renewables plus storage reaching price parity with FFs and getting cheaper, it doesn’t look like happening for the foreseeable future. Significant disruptive technologies rarely experience stagnation in the latter stages of their takeover.

    • Bristolboy 11 months ago

      The challenge is even if new sources are economic it is my understanding they will be unable to connect to the grid etc outside of auctions.

    • heinbloed 11 months ago

      90% of the German population is behind the Energiewende and no political party can ignore this,80% are willing to pay higher energy prices supporting a faster Energiewende.

  3. Bristolboy 11 months ago

    Hopefully the slowdown will be less extreme since the outline agreement for the next coalition government (CSU/CDU and SPD) indicates there will be auctions for an additional 4GW of onshore wind and solar for delivery in 2019 and 2020.

  4. HansB50 11 months ago

    Sorry, but this article consists out of a lot of populistic, green, selective facts. Especially the last sentences about the large amount of green power (more than 100% capacity between cristmas and new year, when we had a large amount of heavy wind and at the other side no real consumption of the industry (usually 60% in active times ) which had been closed due to Christmas hollidays.
    In January 2017 there were about three weeks with no solar photovoltaic and also nearly zero wind, this was about a total 2% of green energy . At that time conventional power plants , esp. lignite dirty coal, black coal, nuclear and Import from other fossile emergency plants outside Germany took care, so that we got no Blackout.
    In Germany we have the luxury of a conventional (mostly fossile) power plant capacity of about 90 GW in case no green energy is available and in parallel for just in case about max 45 GW Peak on green power plants which may produce or work not.
    This dual capacity plant costs gives us the highest electricty price of Europe of about 37 Cents/KWh.
    Especially the Greens and the subsidiary benefitters with their controlled media like this!

    • heinbloed 11 months ago

      Liar.

      Within the CWE power trading zone Germany has the cheapest electricity price:

      https://www.eex.com/de/

      Only Scandinavia is cheaper within Europe:

      https://www.nordpoolgroup.com/

      • HansB50 11 months ago

        Sorry to correct you, these EEX figures are the spot price without subsidiaries. These low prices are resulting from the large amount of subsidiaries paid for renewables to pump them into the german net.

        The consumers however have to pay these additional subsidiaries, network costs, KWK cost etc. and additional electricity taxes.
        The consumer price can be found at European statistics:
        http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&plugin=1&pcode=ten00117&language=en

        Consumer prices of Denmark(also a lot of windturbines ) and Germany are the highest in Europe! (at least according to Euro statistics, not by green Propaganda sources.

        You can find the Co2 emissions of Europe also at Europe statistics at:
        http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language=en&pcode=tsdgp410&plugin=1

        You see Germany has one of the prominent leading places.

        Emitting such a large amount of CO2 by the “effective” use of renewables for energy generates a lot of costs ,money and subsidiaries financed by the people!

  5. HansB50 11 months ago

    As you may have already heared, a new coalition for the government, it is now under probing, wants to “make honest”. In politics this is a popular phrase. It suggests that a bad, a dishonest state is finally turned off. As so often, the opposite is true this time. If the CDU and the SPD were honest, then they would have to concede their almost complete failure in climate policy.
    In the past four years, virtually nothing has changed in terms of climate relevant emissions. And that despite all sorts of “action plans” and media propaganda which you can also read here. Despite green electricity expansion. And despite the commitment in the old coalition agreement, the Union and the SPD, emissions by 2020 were set to be 40 percent below 1990 levels. But the truth at the beginning of 2018 is an embarrassing 27 percent, about one third too few. More was not achieved and will also not achieved in the future.
    And a lot oft this amount is still from the deindustrialization old heavy industry of communist East Germany after 1990 !
    Germanys energy politics is a lot of government Propaganda , but missing positive results

    • heinbloed 11 months ago

      Clown.

      The employment is now at record level, despite the introduction of a minimum wage only 2 or 3 years ago:

      http://www.dw.com/en/german-jobs-market-hit-record-in-2017/a-41996084

      • HansB50 11 months ago

        I translated my former contribution from a famous german green-leftist newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” !
        heinblöd is a german abbreviation of silly Heinrich, maybe he did not understand this text:
        But again , why does this propaganda from government (DW) and Greenpiss sources justify that the German government is lying about CO2 emissions?.

        Again with some adds on in parantheses for better readability for non Ggermans) :
        ….(CO2) Emissions by 2020 were set (by the governments propaganda) to be 40 percent below 1990 levels. But the truth at the beginning of 2018 is an embarrassing 27 percent, about one third too few. More was not achieved and will also not achieved in the future.

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