Energy transition

Germany needs gas, not hot air

File photo of sign reading ‘natural gas’ on a compressor station of RWE
Time to turn on the taps? Source: Reuters

There has probably never been a project in Germany before in which the gap between aspirations, goals and reality has been as wide as it is with the transition to green energy. When it comes to the “Energiewende,” it is no longer facts that count, but ideology and the pushing of scenarios that have little or nothing to do with reality.

In the country’s so-called target scenarios, computer models are used to show that by fully electrifying Germany, it can achieve the political goal of reducing CO2 by 95 percent by 2050. And with the help of a process known as sector coupling, electricity will be used to heat our buildings and operate our cars.

Well-respected institutes use complex scenarios to show what needs to be done to meet the 2050 goal. For example, one suggests that the energy consumption of all buildings, including those that are very old, must be reduced by 50-60 percent. The remaining heating needs would be met by 16 million electric heat pumps and long-distance heating. According to this scenario, natural gas pipelines could then be shut down, since neither natural gas nor oil would be needed anymore. At the same time, the mobility sector would be converted almost entirely to electric vehicles.

The future is not the foolish expansion of solar and wind-power plants.

There’s just one problem. This strategy will require at least 600,000 megawatts of photovoltaic and wind-power plants by 2050. In order to integrate this enormous output, connect the electric heat pumps and set up the electrical charging infrastructure in the mobility sector, the electrical grid will have to be expanded by about 300,000 kilometers at all voltage levels. Since the sun will not be shining 24 hours a day in 2050 and the wind will not always blow, enormous storage systems will be needed to ensure security of supply.

This list of requirements clearly shows that the government will never be able to achieve its climate protection targets with this “all electric strategy.” Despite Berlin’s best efforts, ranging from billions in state funding programs to national climate action plans such as NAPE, the reality looks grim.

According to a new monitoring report by the economics ministry, the efficiency targets in the building sector, the projected growth rates for electric vehicles, the necessary expansion of the electrical grid and the climate protection goals will not be achieved by 2020. In addition, CO2 emissions were reduced by just 27 percent between 1990 and 2016, with the pace of reduction coming to a standstill in recent years.

It is clear today that the intermediate target of reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020, which had been set by politicians, is unattainable – and the government does not even dispute this.

The reality is that Germany still lacks the grids for transporting electricity from the renewables-dense north to the south, and that in 2016 electricity consumers had to pay around €1 billion to fire up old oil-powered plants in the south when wind power dropped in the north. The fact is that the Federal Network Agency has to instruct more and more coal and natural gas power plants to continue operating in order to guarantee security of supply.

It is also a fact that this situation will deteriorate even further by 2022 if Germany’s remaining nuclear power plants are decommissioned, especially in the south. In this case, German power plants will no longer be sufficient to maintain security of supply, so Germany will have to turn to French power plants, for example, as a report by the FNA shows.

The Energiewende is not a success, especially not for climate protection. That is why the next federal government must rely on facts to shape its energy and climate policy and give innovation a chance. The future is not the foolish expansion of solar and wind-power plants or state-imposed compulsory purchase via the Renewable Energies Act, but system optimization that uses intelligent business models to reduce CO2 emissions as cost-effectively as possible. This is why policymakers should limit themselves to setting sector-specific CO2 reduction targets, which the relevant players must then achieve with the tools that best suit their needs.

It is not the one-sided fixation on electricity, solar and wind that makes sense, but rather the intelligent integration of natural gas systems. Natural gas is a multi-faceted fuel that can be used to generate electricity and heat in co-generation plants, and also to power natural gas vehicles to meet the demands of mobility. We need to provide more space for innovation and an openness to new technology.

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