Coal taints Germany's energy mix

12 March 2014

Germany increased its carbon dioxide emissions for the second year in a row due to its Energiewende policies and the effects of global fuel markets.

Releasing 834 million tonnes of carbon dioxide during 2013, the country's emissions were at their highest for five years, according to an estimate by the Federal Environment Agency (Umwelt Bundesamt, UBA) released yesterday.

The 2013 figure is up 1.2% on the year before and a shade above 2010, the last full year before eight nuclear reactors were ordered to shut as a political reaction to the Fukushima accident. The country's lowest emissions year since reunification in 1990 was 2009 with 786 million tonnes, 6.1% below 2013.

Greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, 1990 - Forecast 2013 (UBA) 460x337
Germany hit its Kyoto Protocol targets, but is settling into a gradual upward trend in emissions (Source: UBA)

The reduction of nuclear generation from 22.2% in 2010 to last year's 15.4% of electricity supply is an underlying factor in the emissions growth. One direct cause is that coal's dominance has grown, both to substitute for nuclear power and as a back-up fuel for renewable intermittancy - which has become more important with the growth of renewable sources from 16.6% in 2010 to 23.9% of supply in 2013.

America is enjoying supplies of low-cost gas from domestic wells and therefore has a reduced need for its own coal production. While worldwide gas consumers have not been able to directly benefit from cheap US gas due to export restrictions, the country has been exporting more of its domestically produced coal, driving down global prices for the fuel. In Germany, coal now makes up 45.2% of its electricity generation compared to 41.5% in 2010, while gas has reduced in the last year to only 10.5% from 14.1% in 2010. Utilities have closed gas plants in Germany and neighbouring countries due to the cost of the fuel and periodic gluts of surplus renewable energy.

UBA vice president Thomas Holzmann said, "It is worrisome that the trend towards coal-generated electricity became even more pronounced in 2013. If it continues, we can hardly expect to achieve the federal government's climate protection goal for 2020" - a 40% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Holzmann said that more low-carbon power from renewables was able to partly offset the rise in coal, but that Europe as a whole needed much tougher emissions targets, suggesting a 40% cut by 2030 instead of the 30% proposed by the European Commission. In the meantime, UBA would like to see the emissions trading "stabilized... well ahead of 2020" because the current system "provides too little incentive for companies to use fewer climate damaging fuels."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News