Germany is 20 years away from 100 percent renewable power – not!
In 2015, Germany added more renewable electricity than ever before in a single year, bringing the share of green power in total supply up to 33 percent. But the government seems keen on slowing down this growth. What is really happening? Craig Morris investigates.
Last year, Germany generated 32 TWh of additional green electricity – the largest single hike in history. In comparison, it took Germany from 1991 to 2004 to add roughly that amount. The previous annual record increase was 20 TWh in 2012.
Total German power production came in at 647 TWh, a record 50 TWh of which was for export (net) – an increase of around 50 percent above the previous record from 2014. Around eight percent of German electricity was thus generated for export, a level that now rivals France. Remove those exports, and domestic German power demand comes in at 597 TWh, roughly in line with previous years. Renewable electricity made up 30 percent of all power generated and 33 percent of domestic power demand.
As the chart below shows, the share of nuclear fell year-over-year, largely because the next reactor was shut down as a part of the phase-out. Amazingly, natural gas continues to get squeezed out of the power sector; experts already believe it is close to its minimum level (partly for cogeneration) and cannot go down much further. Finally, hard coal and lignite dropped ever so slightly by just under one percent each.
Much of the increase in renewable power generation was wind power, which grew by nearly 29 TWh. Onshore wind is currently booming as developers rush to complete projects before auctions are rolled out in 2017. Likewise, 2015 was a bumper year for the offshore wind sector, where power generation grew from a mere 1.4 TWh to 8.1 TWh. A lot of wind turbines were also added in 2015, so we can expect tremendous additional wind power generation in 2016 as well.
As the chart below shows, the share of renewables in power supply grew by 3.1 percentage points annually in the six years from 2010-2015. With only 66 percent of conventional electricity remaining, the country would only need another two decades to reach 100 percent renewable power – theoretically.
In practice, however, a number of related problems would need to be solved, especially power storage and grid lines. One reason why Rainer Baake, member of the Green Party, was appointed Industry Undersecretary to handle the Energiewende was his history of focusing on the grid, which he called “the bottleneck for the Energiewende” back in 2012 (in German). In addition, Germany would need to scrap its entire conventional fleet, and no one has a solution for those financial challenges.
For this reason, the government adopted a limit – the country’s first ever – on the growth of renewable electricity in 2014. By 2025, Germany is to have no more than 45 percent renewable power. As the chart above shows, growth is to be cut almost by two thirds over the next decade. After all, the official target is 80 percent renewable electricity by 2050, not 100 percent by 2035 (the current theoretical course).
Here, we see the necessity for the transition from feed-in tariffs (FITs) to auctions. FITs allow any project worth doing to go forward, whereas governmental (or utility) experts determine the maximum growth rate in auctions. On December 8, the government published a new paper showing what that new growth would look like. Biogas additions are to be kept below the replacement rate, meaning that the share of this electricity will eventually shrink. Small PV arrays will continue to be built outside of the auction system, so the government will adjust the volume of auctions for wind power and large PV to fill the gap – except that there is also a target for offshore wind of 6.5 gigawatts, which could be increased to 7.7 GW by 2017.
Last year, offshore alone grew by 6.7 TWh, equivalent to around 1.1 percent of German power demand. At that rate, offshore wind alone might take up practically the entire growth space left. As I pointed out in this blog last summer, the onshore wind market, where community projects have flourished, could be told it can no longer build because the offshore sector has priority.
So while lots of people celebrate 33 percent renewable electricity in Germany, we have our work cut out for us in 2016. The government is about to hand over nearly all of the remaining growth to the large utilities that invest in offshore wind. In the process, the people who drove the transition over the past 25 years would be shut out.