Renewables Have Provided More Than Half Of All Germany’s Electricity This Year

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In the wake of the COP28 climate conference, there is much talk about the role of renewables as an alternative to thermal generation powered by burning coal or methane. The nations in attendance committed to tripling the supply of energy from renewables worldwide by 2030 — which would be a monumental achievement if it happens.

In some places, particularly those whose economies depend on extracting fossil fuels, renewables are said to be unreliable and too costly, but Germany is proving all the doubters wrong. According to the latest calculations by the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) and German utility association BDEW, Germany has generated more than half of the electricity it used this year with renewables for the first time.

“Renewable energies will have covered almost 52 percent of gross electricity consumption in 2023,” the organisations said in a press release. “This means that the share has risen by five percentage points compared to the same period last year and is above the 50 percent mark for the first time for a full year.” Renewables accounted for 46 percent of Germany’s electricity in 2022.

Renewables Flourish In Germany

Since the renewable energy quota for the country is measured as a proportion of electricity consumption, lower consumption increases the quota and vice versa. Therefore, the current lower electricity consumption has a positive effect on the renewable energy quota. But even in absolute terms, renewable energy production was higher than ever before at 267.0 billion kWh. This corresponds to an increase of six percent compared to the previous year. Germany plans for renewables to supply 80 percent of its electricity by 2030 and to have a largely decarbonized power supply by 2035.

“The figures show that we are on the right track. Many people once thought that renewables would only account for a single-digit share of electricity consumption, but today we use more electricity from renewables than from conventional sources and have our sights firmly set on 100 percent renewables,” said BDEW head Kerstin Andreae, who called for the removal of bureaucratic hurdles that slow down the addition of renewables to the energy mix.

“The path to a completely climate neutral power supply was and is not a sure-fire success. We can only achieve the second 50 percent if politicians continue to consistently remove all hurdles to the expansion of renewables. Companies in the energy industry would like to invest in the energy transition, but despite improvements in legislation, they are still too often slowed down by lengthy approval processes, excessive bureaucracy and a lack of space. With our call for more pragmatism here, we address all levels, from Europe to the federal government and the states to the municipalities. We need an attitude of success right into every office,” she added.

Moving Away From Fossil Fuels

“The move away from the fossil fuels coal, oil and natural gas decided at the World Climate Conference in Dubai last Wednesday is not only a very important signal for climate protection,” said Professor Frithjof Staiß, managing director of the ZSW. “This shift requires an expansion of renewable energies in completely new dimensions. In order to cover the future demand for hydrocarbons, green hydrogen is first needed, which is produced using electrolysis using renewable electricity.

“Although unavoidable process emissions can be used as a carbon source, these will be far from sufficient to cover the climate neutral need for synthetic hydrocarbons as raw materials, especially in the chemical industry as well as in aviation and international shipping. We therefore have to start scaling up direct air capture systems for the direct extraction of carbon dioxide from the air as soon as possible. These also require renewable electricity. The expansion dynamic of renewable energies must therefore increase significantly, not only in Germany but worldwide, in order to ensure that the 1.5 degree target is achieved.”

UBA, Germany’s national environment agency, agreed the targets were challenging. “According to current estimates, renewable electricity generation must increase to around 600 terawatt hours [by 2030] and thus more than double in order to cover the increasing demand for electrification in the heating and transport sectors,” the agency said.

ZSW and BDEW said the share of renewable electricity was particularly high in July (59%), May (57%) and October and November (55% each). In June, electricity generation from solar power installations reached a new all time record of 9.8 TWh, while electricity generation from onshore wind energy reached a new record of 113.5 TWh for the year as a whole. Solar and wind energy contributed around 75 percent of Germany’s electricity from renewables with the remainder covered by biomass, hydro power, and a small amount of geothermal energy, according to Clean Energy Wire.

According to preliminary calculations, a total of 508 billion kilowatt hours of electricity was generated in Germany in 2023. That is almost 11 percent less than in 2022, thanks to widespread conservation methods following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Of the total, 267 billion kWh came from renewables compared to 253 billion kWh in 2022. Onshore wind turbines accounted for the largest share of renewable electricity generation at 113.5 billion kWh, compared to 100 billion kWh in 2022.

Photovoltaic systems delivered 62 billion kWh versus 59.3 billion kW in 2022, closely followed by biomass (including the biogenic portion of municipal waste) with 49.7 billion kWh — the same amount as in 2022. 23 billion kWh of electricity came from offshore wind turbines versus 25.2 billion kWh in 2022. Hydropower plants delivered 18.7 billion kWh, up from 17.4 billion kWh in 2022.

The Path Forward For Renewables

Germany, which is the EU’s largest economy, was hit hard  by the loss of cheap methane gas from Russia but has done an excellent job of bridging the gap with renewables, even after shuttering its last nuclear power plant this year. Bloomberg writes that despite the push for more renewables and other low carbon energy sources, renewables in Europe — particularly offshore wind — have faced challenges including higher financing and component costs.

Much the same has happened in the US, where offshore wind projects have been delayed or cancelled due to financial concerns and opposition from local communities that do not yet fully appreciate the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels. While the news about renewables in Germany is welcome, it is only when renewables fully replace coal and methane fired generation that significant decreases in global carbon emissions will occur.

The vision of tripling renewables by 2030 agreed to in Dubai will take continuous and concerted effort by industry and policy makers. We squandered the years between the Paris climate accords and the latest climate summit by paying lip service to the idea of cutting emissions while actually increasing them substantially. Now we have to move twice as far and twice as fast.

Germany is the proof that renewables can power a major industrial economy a majority of the time. That is reason enough for other nations to move boldly forward with their own renewable energy strategies.

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