The German energy transition is succeeding, despite a recent upsurge in coal-fired power, according to the country’s environment department.

A spokesperson for the federal ministry of the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety, who did not wish to be named, this week told Power Engineering International that despite an increase in emissions recorded in the most recent data, the progress made in renewable energy had offset pollution levels.

“Indeed, greenhouse gas emissions in Germany rose by 1.6 per cent in 2012. The reason for this increase is that more hard coal and lignite was burned for generating electricity and more gas was used to heat houses and apartments due to cold weather. However, the expansion of renewable energies curbed the rise in emissions.”

PEi had asked the official to respond to recent commentary about Germany’s coal capacity, including comments made by a French minister who asserted that the Germans were now the biggest polluters in Europe.

The top ministerial official said Germany’s investment in coal had been somewhat overstated.

“The additional generation from lignite was driven by power trading on the common European electricity market and bought (due to its relatively low price from the background of massive overcapacity on the European market and a relatively low carbon price) from and exported to neighboring countries.”

“It is nevertheless also true that in the upcoming years we will most probably also see a few new coal-fired power plants to start operations.”

“All these power plants had been planned and construction had started before the energy concept (energiewende) had been enacted. Since then we have not seen any new investment decision for a coal fired power plant.”
German environment ministry
There had been concern among renewable power lobbyists that recent announcements of new coal-fired builds heralded the beginning of a new era for development of coal in Germany, however the official PEi spoke to, with these responses appears to be playing down that perception of events.

An expert on CCS had also weighed in to point out that while Poland was suffering a lot of negative publicity for its position, the apparent contradictions behind German energy policy had escaped similar scrutiny.

Germany’s energiewende was accelerated by Chancellor Merkel’s government following the Fukushima incident in Japan, and involves the phasing out nuclear energy by the end of 2022.

There is a core target for a 50-percent reduction in primary energy consumption by the year 2050, compared with 2008 and the government’s objective is to ensure that the renewables share of gross final energy consumption reaches 60 per cent by 2050.

Meanwhile the renewables sector’s share of power generation alone is to rise from the present 20 per cent of electricity consumption to at least 80 per cent by 2050.

While all energy sources are in theory available to achieve the energy transition in practice there is another layer of complexity that ensures renewables are prioritized.

The energiwende has to be in line with the German government’s ambitious climate objectives, as adopted in the Energy Concept of 28.09.2010. These state that climate-relevant greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 40 per cent by 2020, 55 per cent by 2030, 70 per cent by 2040 and between 80 and 95 per cent by 2050 (in each case compared with 1990).

The government department official PEi spoke to further clarified the state’s position, saying, “fossil fuel power plants will still be needed in future to fill the remaining gap. In particular, highly efficient and flexible gas-fired power plants (power-led co-generation, gas-and-steam power plants, gas turbines) are likely candidates for balancing the fluctuations in energy production from renewable energy sources. In future, however, these can increasingly be run on hydrogen or methane produced on the basis of renewable energy sources.

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