The announcement that renewable energy made up 32.5 percent of power consumption in Germany in the first half of 2015 drew a lot of attention this week, but what is happening with coal power?
What’s worse than an annual overview of electricity data? A biannual overview. Fluctuations in one-off events (such as the weather) are amplified the smaller you get. Given that caveat, let’s nonetheless take a look at the latest news.
German renewable energy organization BEE published an overview of renewables at the end of June (meaning that the data are still cursory), showing (PDF in German) that the share of renewables in electricity increased to 32.5 percent. That’s the figure everyone seems to have focused on, partly because it is quite a large jump from 27.3 percent for 2014 as a whole. Note as well that you will find the figure of 25.8 percent. The difference is that the larger figure represents power consumption, while the smaller percentage represents power generation. Germany reached a record level of power exports last year, and all of the exports are considered to be conventional electricity because of the way German law gives priority to renewables.
For me, however, a different number was much more salient – renewables made up 14.4 percent of total energy consumption, up from slightly over 11 percent in 2014. If Germany increased at that rate, it would be 100 percent renewable for all types of energy consumption (electricity, heat, and transport) by midcentury. In reality, however, last winter was very warm, so demand for space heat was simply down. Another harsh winter would probably put Germany back close to 11 percent.
But let’s focus on coal power for the moment. The BEE did not produce any statistics for non-renewable energy, but my colleague Thomas Gerke cobbled the numbers together from Fraunhofer ISE’s energy charts website. Coal power generation (from both lignite and hard coal) has fallen back to the level of the time frame from 2009-2011 (only the first half of those years).
With the nuclear reactor at Grafenrheinfeld off-line since last weekend, some space has been created for coal power. The question is whether wind power will grow quickly enough to fill that gap. PV and biomass certainly will not. The biomass market is basically dead, and solar continues creeping along at a level far below the government’s own official target.
Overall, electricity from lignite dropped by 3.6 percent, mainly because so much wind power was produced during the winter that it actually cut into this baseload electricity. In contrast, power from hard coal dropped by only one percent; it already ramps the hardest. Electricity from natural gas was down by 1.5 percent; it is already offset the most. Nuclear power was actually up by 2.8 percent.
Solar shrank by four percent (again, just a weather fluctuation), while 10 percent more wind power was generated. (These figures are taken from this German article.) The increase in wind power is certainly due to the record level of new generation capacity installed in 2014.
Source: Renewables International. Reproduced with permission.