CO2 Emissions

Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor


Germany CO2 Emissions From Power Sector Unchanged

March 26th, 2014 by  

Originally published on Renewables International.
By Craig Morris

The AGEB published its official review of German energy in 2013 yesterday, confirming our estimate from January: CO2 emissions from power are down.

The official figures from Germany’s Environmental Agency (UBA) are not yet in, but AGEB has published its official estimate of energy statistics for 2013. For the power sector, the original preliminary report from December did not contain any estimate of carbon emissions, or of actual coal consumption (primary energy). Rather, it only discussed power production (final energy).

But as our Thomas Gerke pointed out in January, carbon emissions are related to the amount of primary fossil energy consumed, not the amount of final energy produced. Germany is making more electricity from less coal. Gerke estimated that carbon emissions from the power sector – remember, we are only talking about electricity, not total energy consumption – must be down by around 0.3 percent.

2013CarbonEnergyConsumption (1)

The original chart from January in which we estimate that carbon emissions from the power sector in Germany were probably stable or slightly down in 2013.
Image Credit: Thomas Gerke

Now, the AGEB has confirmed his findings, though they refrained from stating outright that carbon emissions are down. Here is the statement from the press release (PDF, all texts only in German; these are my translations):

Lower emissions from natural gas turbines and lignite power plants compensated for the increase in CO2 emissions from hard coal plants.

A more literal translation would read that the “increase” in CO2 from hard coal was “balanced” by the drop in consumption of natural gas and lignite for power.

The full report (PDF) states that CO2 emissions “are practically unchanged year over year.”

While power from natural gas shrank considerably, the increase in electricity from lignite and hard coal was compensated for by greater use of renewables, so that the CO2 intensity of power generation remained the same in 2013 as in the previous year.

The figure given for 2013 for “general power supply” is 0.51 kg of CO2/kWh. Strangely, no number is reported for the previous year. If you want to compare, you have to go find the official report for 2012 (PDF). Et voilà, the figure for that year is 0.52 kg of CO2/kWh. Carbon emissions from the German power sector were down in 2013.


The Berlin-based think tank Agora Energiewende is only one of a large number of organizations that estimated higher carbon emissions from the German power sector based on an uptick in final energy (electricity) from fossil fuel. Agora has made quite a splash with its “Energiewende Paradox” (meaning that the Energiewende is leading to higher carbon emissions from the power sector), but the real paradox is that no one is reporting that carbon emissions from the power sector are down. Agora is itself working to reduce carbon emissions, so the think tank probably cannot use the news about lower carbon emissions.
Image Credit: Agora

Why is this message suppressed?

In any normal situation, such hard facts would simply be reported – it’s not like there’s no way to say “carbon emissions are slightly down year-over-year” in German. But the AGEB writes only that “Germany was probably not on target for its carbon emission reductions in 2013.” The organization is focusing on total energy consumption, not just power. In other words, Germans actually are seriously concerned about carbon emissions, and they are not going to celebrate some minor downturn in the smallest of the three main energy sectors (Germany consumes roughly a fifth of its energy as electricity, but 2/5 as motor fuel and 2/5 as heat).

Why is Renewables International celebrating this outcome? We’re not; we are reporting on it. We would also like to speed up the transition to renewables and phase out fossil fuel even more.

The charge that German carbon emissions are up because it is switching to coal is a popular meme in particular among the nuclear community. It is therefore important to set the record straight. Nuclear plants produce electricity, not liquid fuel, and the waste heat from nuclear plants is almost never used; apparently, not enough people want to live or work close enough to a nuclear plant to make the recovery of waste heat practical. The power sector is the easiest thing to fix. German carbon emissions largely come from heat and motor fuel, where too little is being done.

In a few weeks, the UBA should produce its own estimate of carbon emissions in the power sector, so we expect to be back with further confirmation of these findings soon. And keep in mind that we have estimated lower carbon emissions for 2014 as well from the power sector for various reasons, including most recently lower power exports to France, though the overall forecast for the power sector remains bleak until the end of the nuclear phaseout in 2022. (Craig Morris)

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  • Omega Centauri

    It looks like the bottom line is that renewables are just about cancelling out the increase in emissions from a switch from nat gas to coal. [A decrease in nuclear may also factor into the equation].

  • No way

    So in short. Germany burn more a lot more coal. Co2 emissions are at the same level (with total emissions surely a lot higher).
    So a black Germany are staying as black as before (or blacker if you live close to their coal plants or somewhere where the wind can hit you from them… which is at least half of Europe).

    I hope that Germany soon can show some big reductions in emissions because this is just sad.

    • Bob_Wallace

      A lot of the coal produced electricity is being sold on to other European countries.

      Other countries own a lot of the CO2 coming out of Germany.

    • You’re ignoring that a lot of that extra coal power replaced coal & natural gas power in my country. NO extra coal was burned, only the country in which it was burned was different.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Yeah, I don’t know where the coal-electricity went.

        My point is that we shouldn’t put the blame on German electricity users. Their CO2 emissions are impressively down considering that they have been closing nuclear plants.

        • No way

          Not all blame should be put on Germany but the majority of it. They still control what happens within their borders so there is no reason at all that they should go without blame.

          They have been burning coal because it is cheap to keep their coal power plants open when they don’t need the capacity. A better solution would have been to close coal power plants and let other countries deal with their electricity.

          In my opinion burning coal not because you need it but just to sell the electricity is maybe even worse. It’s like a drug user who not only use it but become a drug dealer too. I can partly understand it when it’s an addiction and for your own use, but dragging others into it…

          January and february of 2014 looked a bit better. Hopefully Germany has reached peak coal and is starting to do like most other countries and quit coal and other fossil fuels.

          • Bob_Wallace

            My point was – don’t blame German electricity users for the extra CO2.

          • No way

            I get your point. And it’s mostly a fair point. But every German electricity user is also a human being with a will and a voice to do something about what is happening in their country.
            We all know that fossil fuels hurt and kill a lot of people and mostly so coal. Coal kills most persons in Poland and Germany in Europe (also the two european countries that pollutes the most from coal and have most of the dirtiest coal plants). I would be so pissed that they kept burning as much or even more coal, killing more people than necessary in my country that I would try to do something about it.
            I expect some kind of outrage from the german people and hopefully even public protests.

          • ThomasGerke


            It’s been a long time since Germany has reached “Peak coal” (check out the chart showing coal use per capita). But I agree, it has to go down more & as soon as possible.

            About public protests:
            Oh, there are many and increasingly focused on ending coal, preventing fracking and accelerating the shift to renewables! 😉

      • No way

        The Netherlands… *sigh*… Is there any hope for improvement in the power sector there? Can’t you start some kind of mass movement, roaming the streets in protest? 😛

        • BasM

          If such mass movement occurs in Netherlands (NL), it will be targeted
          towards closing NL’s only Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) at Borssele.

          Not strange as:
          – the NPP is quite vulnerable for attacks. E.g. a 200ton airliner will for sure result in a disaster like Fukushima.

          the NPP is 6 meter below sea level and the dikes will brake once in
          ~5000 years. If that happens chance is at least 50% that a Fukushima
          like disaster will develop. Until 2012 the air inlets of all cooling
          (incl. emergency) were below sea level!
          No real test was and is done with flooding…

          If such disaster occurs, NL will brake down as the major winds blow
          towards the economic heart of the Netherlands (Rotterdam, etc).
          Note that in Fukushima those blew for 97% to the ocean.

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