Germany: Renewables hit record high in first half of 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Renewable energy sources provided a record 41.5% of Germany's power supply in the first half of 2018 according to Energy Charts, a website run by research institute Fraunhofer ISE.1

With a total net output of 113 terawatt-hours (TWh) since January, the renewables share was nearly 9% higher than during the same period last year and over a third higher than in 2014. In the first half of 2018, wind turbines produced 55.2 TWh, second only to lignite plants, which produced 66.7 TWh. Offshore wind power fed 9.1 TWh into the grid, solar power plants 22.3 TWh, hydropower 12.5 TWh, and bioenergy plants 23 TWh.

Despite the growth of renewables, problems loom. Andreas Löschel from Fraunhofer ISE told Clean Energy Wire: "If you look at the developments throughout the last year, it becomes clear that today the energy transition is not assigned the same political priority as it used to have some years ago."2

Löschel warned the Energiewende must not lose public acceptance due to its costs and limited success in emissions reduction to date. Germany's emissions have stagnated in recent years, partly due to a sustained period of economic growth and partly due to increasing transport emissions. Germany exported a total of 22 TWh of electricity in the first half of 2018, and was a net exporter 86% of the time.

Securing a stable power supply hinges on the development of grid capacities and storage technology, as Germany's renewable power capacity expansion continues.

Dave Elliott, emeritus professor at the Open University, UK, wrote about the Energiewende in May 2018:

"Public support remains very high. In a poll, 95% of the sample saw expansion of renewables as important or extremely important – up from 93% in 2016. But there are still some big policy issues. While renewables are growing, so has coal use. Although national-level use of energy from coal is now falling, gas imports are rising, with Russia keen to help.

"Gas plants can be used to balance variable renewables, so there is a case for them, but there is a push towards the use of green gas, generated from wastes or via Power to Gas conversion of surplus renewable electricity. With CCS all but abandoned, the continued use of carbon-intense coal is much more provocative, given Germany's climate protection ambitions. However, it is lucrative. With renewables taking some of the market, Germany now has regular surpluses of power, despite the phase-out of nuclear, and that surplus, mostly in effect from coal plants, is being exported very profitably.

"Coal use is being fought by environmentalists, and indeed was a key issue in the initial phase of the post-election negotiations, with the Greens requiring action on it as the price of their membership of a coalition with Merkel. Sadly, that didn't work out. Phasing out coal use and coal mining is certainly a tough call, although it is happening.

"However, despite these setbacks, it does not seem to be the case, as some insist, that Germany is replacing nuclear with coal, so that emissions are rising. The 2017 World Nuclear Industry Status report notes that, between 2010, the last year prior to the post-3/11 shutdown of the eight oldest nuclear plants, and 2016, 'the increase of renewable electricity generation (+84.4 TWh) and the noticeable reduction in domestic consumption (–20.6 TWh) were more than sufficient to compensate the planned reduction of nuclear generation (–56 TWh), enabling also a slight reduction in power generation from fossil fuels (–13 TWh) and a threefold increase in net exports'.

"Though it is the case that German emissions have been growing slightly, that's mainly due to increases from transport. That clearly needs attention. ...

"What does not seem to be in contention is the nuclear phase-out. With Gundremmingen B now closed, there are 7 plants left – all to go by 2022. But some nuclear plants are meanwhile trying to ramp up and down to stay in the game i.e. by offering balancing services. Though that can have its problems.

"With renewables expanding, there is no shortage of issues – upgrading grids to help with balancing being key, especially given local opposition to new lines. Although some bold plans are still going ahead. There are limits being imposed on biomass use, but renewables supplied over 36% of annual electricity needs in 2017, 40% of it from wind, 36% from biosources."



2. Benjamin Wehrmann, 2 July 2018, 'Renewables hit record as concerns over German govt quarrels grow',

3. Dave Elliott, 24 May 2018, 'Germany stays on track',