Renewables Take Top Share of German Power Supply in First

German Wind Farm
Wind turbines operate on a wind farm in Altentreptow, Germany. When Germany kicked off its journey toward a system harnessing energy from wind and sun back in 2000, the goal was to protect the environment and build out climate-friendly power generation. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Germany for the first time got more electricity from renewables than any other source of energy, evidence Chancellor Angela Merkel is making progress in weaning the nation off nuclear power.

Clean-energy sources met 27.7 percent of Germany’s demand in the nine months through September, for the first time exceeding the 26.3 percent share held by lignite coal, according to calculations by Agora, an influential researcher owned by the Mercator Foundation and European Climate Foundation.

Merkel intends to get as much as 60 percent of the country’s power from renewables by 2035 under her “Energiewende” plan that will see all nuclear reactors closed by 2022. Her efforts have been plagued by runaway household power prices, rising pollution, a surge in coal use and deepening reliance on natural gas from Russia.

“This is just the type of news the German government needs,” Famke Krumbmuller, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London, said by phone. “There were a lot of complaints over high power prices and increased dependence on Russian gas because of Merkel’s U-turn. This is a real success and watershed moment.”

Hydro’s Share

The German figures include power produced from hydro-electric plants, which often aren’t considered renewable because of their impact on wildlife. Some nations already produce most of their electricity with clean energy including hydro, including Canada, Brazil and Norway. In Germany, wind, biomass and solar each exceeded hydro power production.

Germany’s clean-energy expansion came at a cost. German consumers including private citizens, shopowners and companies paid 106 billion euros ($130 billion) since 2000 to finance the clean-energy expansion through a charge added onto their bills. Consumer power bills are the second-highest in the European Union.

Merkel’s Challenge

Making the Energiewende compatible with the German economy’s competitiveness is “the key challenge” Merkel must solve in the coming years, Krumbmuller said.

Wind power and biomass accounted for 9.5 percent and 8.1 percent of demand, respectively, Agora said. Solar panels generated 6.8 percent and fed as much as 24.2 gigawatts of electricity into the grid on June 6, about the same as 20 nuclear reactors, the group said. It didn’t give figures for nuclear or hard coal.

“While this brings us closer to a low-carbon energy mix and helps combating climate change, the challenge is how to integrate the intermittent renewable capacity into a system that wasn’t built for it,” Anna Czajkowska, an analyst for clean energy policy at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London, said today by phone.

Renewable Share

Wind and solar power, unlike atomic reactors, don’t produce around the clock. Renewables provided 44 gigawatts of electricity, or three quarters of the nation’s demand, on May 11. With conventional plants producing a further 24 gigawatts, it created an oversupply that led to negative power prices, Agora said.

The milestone should be regarded with “caution,” Czajkowska said.

“Because of a mild winter last year, we saw lower power demand, resulting in thermal generators producing much less electricity than normally throughout winter months,” she said.

Fossil fuels including lignite, the dirtiest fossil fuel, along with hard coal, natural gas and oil accounted for 56.5 percent of German power production last year, according to AG Energiebilanzen e.V., which compiles energy statistics. Renewables produced 24.1 percent, while atomic reactors generated 15.4 percent, it said.

(BNEF corrects data on Canada renewables from first paragraph.)
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