Climate Protection

The Risk of Utopian Energy Goals

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Lowering CO2 emissions from cars and trucks remains a sore spot in Germany.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany will fail to meet its ambitious climate-protection goals without a greater focus on transport and heating.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • In 2014, electricity generated by wind, solar and biomass plants covered about 26 percent of total demand for electricity in Germany.
    • The German government established a target of an 80-to-95-percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels.
    • CO2 emissions in the electricity sector have already been reduced by 60 percent, compared to 45 percent in the heating sector and 35 percent in transport.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Germany keeps setting new records in its transition toward renewable energy, known as the Energiewende.

In December, the country’s wind turbines generated a record 8.9 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, more than the amount of energy produced by all eight nuclear power plants still in operation. And this record is likely to be broken in 2015, when major offshore wind farms in the North Sea are connected to the grid.

Germany is unquestionably making enormous strides in expanding renewable energy. Last year, electricity generated by wind, solar and biomass plants covered about 26 percent of total demand – more than lignite, coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants combined.

But there is still no reason for excessive euphoria. Despite all its efforts, Germany will fall short of its own climate protection goals.

If no additional measures are taken, emissions of climate-damaging CO2 will decline by only 50 percent by 2050, compared with the benchmark year, 1990 – that is significantly less than the federal government’s target of 80 to 95 percent, according to a report by consulting firm PwC, to be presented on Tuesday at the Handelsblatt energy conference in Berlin.

“The energy transition can only succeed if the electricity market is effectively linked to the heating and transportation sector”

Norbert Schwieters, Director of PwC's' Energy Division

PwC energy experts analyzed about 250 studies and prepared their own model calculations for the 300-page report. The result is a comprehensive overview of the status quo and outlook for Germany’s move to new, non-polluting forms of energy – not just in the electricity sector, but also in the areas of heating and transportation.

Those two areas, it turns out, are lagging considerably behind developments in the electricity market. “The current discussion is focused too heavily on the electricity sector,” said Norbert Schwieters, director of PwC’s energy industry division. “The energy transition can only succeed if the electricity market is effectively linked to the heating and transportation sector.”

Based on the reference scenarios, CO2 emissions in the electricity sector have been reduced to about 150 million tons, amounting to a decrease of about 60 percent relative to the 1990 benchmark year, according to the PwC report. CO2 emissions have declined by 45 percent in the heating sector, to 230 million tons, and by 35 percent in transportation, to 105 million tons.

While the public debate focuses on alternative electricity generation, the heating sector plays an equally important role in making the conversion to renewable energies a success, especially as about half of energy consumption is attributable to heating, hot water and process heat. “But it’s precisely in this area that Germany threatens to fall short of its CO2 reduction targets,” said Mr. Schwieters.

A much more widespread use of electric powered vehicles would substantially reduce emissions in the transportation sector.

The outlook lists many steps that can be taken to further lower harmful emissions. For instance, it recommends reducing energy use and focusing more heavily on cogeneration, or the combined generation of heat and power.

In the heating sector, buildings and heating systems need to be refurbished at a much faster pace, the report concludes. Increasing the rate of refurbishment from 1 to 2.5 percent, for example, would reduce emissions by another 5 percent. However, this would cost about €30 billion ($34.8 billion) and require massive government subsidization. Another option would be to increase the use of bio-methane in gas heating systems.

Of course, a much more widespread use of electric powered vehicles would substantially reduce emissions in the transportation sector. If there were 6 million electric cars on German roads by 2050, the government would only be two percentage points short of its target for the transportation sector.

“Still, there is no scenario in which the ambitious climate protection goals can foreseeably be attained,” Mr. Schwieters said.

 

Jürgen Flauger covers the energy sector for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: flauger@handelsblatt.com

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