Germany’s renewable success masks a fixation with coal

Germany’s renewable success masks a fixation with coal

Germany used more energy from renewable sources than coal and won widespread praise. 40% of its power came from renewables in 2018, compared with 38% from coal, and while the margin was slim, it has been seen as a strong move in the right direction.

Behind the headlines is a more troubling view. Germany remains dependent on coal for a large part of its power needs, with some 120 coal fired power stations still operating. After shutting down its last coal mine in November 2018, the country now relies on importing fuel from the Americas, Russia and “brown coal”.

Weather may also have played its part. Exceptional winds have allowed wind farms to operate for longer and an above average summer meant solar farms were more productive. What impact this had on boosting the renewable contribution is unclear.

Coal will remain a key source of energy

Germany’s energy grid is facing a unique challenge: the abrupt end of nuclear power. Contributing around 5 percent of the country’s energy needs, all nuclear reactors should be offline by the end of 2022. Replacing this will not be easy as the additional capacity provided by renewables each year doesn’t cover the shortfall.

Yet demand for energy shows little sign of slowing. In the past decade, capacity has increased 40 percent, much coming from renewables. Demand is likely to increase further as the fossil fuel dependent transport network migrates onto electric. Germany expects one million EVs to be on the roads by 2022, a 10 fold increase from 2017 and all demanding recharging.

The road ahead is more difficult

While a positive step forwards, Germany still has a long way to go to increase its share of renewable energy sustainably. It seems likely the 2020 targets will be missed and while ambitions plans have been announced for 2030, these still see renewables providing only 65 percent of power needs.

Germany has long been seen as a leader within the European Union. If she can’t get her renewable policies working, that position in one sphere at least will be lost.

Image Credit: Robert Cutts under a Creative Commons Licence

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