German power industry: coal will replace wind power in 2021

German Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (The Greens) announced as soon as the coalition government was established at the end of 2021: the energy balance will not be good last year and the next two years (2022 and 2023) will certainly be the same . This pessimistic forecast was officially confirmed today by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), which publishes the results of electricity production in 2021. lead in 2021. As a result, climate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for 2021 have not been met.

In 2021, coal will again become the main source of electricity in Germany

We remember that in 2020 it was wind energy that first supplied Germany with most of the electricity transferred to the grid in 2020. Proof that renewable energy can power a country on a large scale, even if conventional energy provided most of the production overall. The improvement was only short-lived as coal returned to circulation the following year and the share of electricity generated from coal rose to over 30% from a slightly lower figure of 25% in 2020. %) is accounted for by power plants operating on lignite, which is almost entirely mined in Germany, and the remaining 40% is accounted for by power plants operating on imported coal.

German electric mix in 2020 and 2021. © Sara de Lacerda / Science and the future. Source: Destatis. Click the image to enlarge it.

Less windy spring 2021 than last year

Conversely, the share of electricity generated from renewable energy sources decreased from 47.1% in 2020 to 42.4% in 2021. First of all, wind power is seeing a sharp decline as spring 2021 is much less windy than the previous year. . Thus, the share of wind energy in the amount of electricity supplied to the grid fell from 25.2% in 2021 to 21.5% in 2021. On the other hand, electricity generation from photovoltaic energy has remained almost equivalent.

Gas has become more expensive

Under the federal government’s energy strategy, which favors gas as a transitional method in anticipation of hydrogen, electricity generation from natural gas was to increase. But in fact, it has decreased from 13.7% in 2020 to 12.6% in 2021 due to a sharp increase in prices. This decline is especially noticeable in the third quarter of 2021, when a 40% drop was recorded compared to the same quarter of the previous year.

Only three nuclear power plants remain in operation

To compensate for the decline in electricity generation from gas, little use was made of nuclear power. Thus, the share of electricity generated from nuclear energy increased slightly, from 12.1% in 2020 to 12.6% in 2021. Since half of the last six power plants were shut down at the end of December 2021, production in this sector can only decline. in 2022.

Comparison of electricity production in Germany by energy source in 2020 and 2021. © Sarah de Lacerda / Science and the future. Source: Destatis. Click the image to enlarge it.

More conventional energy than renewable

Thus, the upward trend in wind and renewable energy that seemed to take shape in 2020 proved to be short-lived; in fact, we knew that this was the result of a combination of two exceptional factors: the coronavirus pandemic and favorable weather conditions. These factors, which have not found an equivalent in 2021, in 2021, traditional energy has largely regained its advantage: thus, almost 58% of electricity generation came from traditional sources, while renewable sources provided just over 42%. In comparison, in 2020 they accounted for more than 47% of the electricity supplied to the grid, while the share of traditional energy sources reached almost 53%.

Traditional and renewable sources in electricity generation in Germany between 2019 and 2021. © Sarah de Lacerda / Science and the future. Source: Destatis.

Products primarily intended for local consumption

In total, Germany generated almost 518 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2021, slightly more than in 2020 (502.6 TWh), the year of the pandemic. However, compared to 2019, there is a downward trend (534.1 TWh). It also imports the equivalent of one tenth of its production, i.e. 51.7 TWh, mainly from France, even if the amount of electricity from our country decreased by 25% between 2020 and 2021. Exports represent the equivalent of 13.6% of what it produces. , i.e. 70.3 TWh. In the case of both imports and exports, it is not possible to distinguish between energy sources.

Increasing greenhouse gas emissions

Increasing the share of coal in electricity generation has the direct effect of increasing greenhouse gas emissions by about 4.5% by 2021, according to the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). Thus, the climate target was not met, which led to the implementation of the emergency program. Greenhouse gas emissions of about 762 million tons in 2021 (compared to 729 million tons in 2020) decreased by only 38.7% compared to 1990, while the Federal Climate Law provides for a reduction of 65 % by 2030.

The energy sector is the main source of emissions growth

Of the 33 million additional tons compared to 2020, the energy sector accounts for the majority of emissions, with 27 million tons of CO2 equivalent. Two other sectors showing growth are transport and construction, which exceed the quotas set by the Climate Law.
As climate secretary Patrick Greichen explains, this situation was foreseen in the strategy presented in the coalition plan; that’s why the government now intends to apply it by accelerating the development of renewable energy sources. Their capacities really need to be tripled so that by 2030 they provide 80% of electricity production.

Rejection of traditional energy sources to achieve energy independence?

True, poor performance was expected for 2021, but the beginning of 2022 is still marked by a significant event: the war in Ukraine, which prompts more than ever to accelerate the pace. That is why the German government is betting on wind and photovoltaics in order to eventually phase out fossil fuels in all areas, assures UBA President Dirk Messner: “To meet the federal government’s 2030 targets, emissions must now be reduced by 6% per year. However, since 2010 the average has not even been close to 2%. For this, Germany needs everyone to contribute. Together we must combine all our efforts to become independent of Russian energy and protect our climate“.

However, the economy and climate minister is now looking for new sources of energy – not always green – from new suppliers who, like the Russian president, are not necessarily champions of freedom. One might therefore wonder whether the war in Ukraine will really help Germany achieve the energy independence it seeks, or push it into other dangerous ties.

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