Inspirational Change: German Electricity

I love this graph. It reveals that two important trends have both accelerated over this last year. Electricity demand in Germany has fallen more quickly than ever and renewable forms of electricity have increased significantly, which, taken together, has meant that coal, lignite, gas and nuclear power have simultaneously fallen. This proves the success of the German ‘Energiewende’ policy.

The graph shows how use of the most polluting ways of generating electricity (lignite, coal, gas, oil and nuclear) collectively peaked in 2003, plateaued until 2006 and then, first slowly, then increasingly quickly, declined. This was made possible between 2003 and 2017 by the increasing deployment of renewables, notably wind and solar. Overall demand peaked in 2017, and has since fallen significantly, which coupled with the continued increase in renewables, has meant increasingly rapid falls in the more polluting technologies. Very good news in many ways: falling carbon emissions, declining local air pollution, and wider economic and social gains from new jobs, health benefits, money saved on fuel imports etc.

The 2020 to 2022 period saw some extraordinary challenges. First Covid, which reduced demand, then the post-Covid bounce in demand overlapped with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which interrupted gas supply, coupled with a severe drought that meant that most of Europe’s hydro-electric facilities were only partially operating, which had the knock-on effect of meaning French nuclear power stations had insufficient water to operate and had to shut down. All these factors were behind the slight increase in lignite, coal and nuclear that occurred around 2021 and I blogged about last year.

I posted a blog in 2014 ‘The Energiewende: Success or Failure’. I think we can now say, yes, it has been a success. Germany is moving toward 100% renewable energy generation.

More than a dozen countries already get all, or very nearly all, their electricity from renewables: New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Bhutan, Uruguay, Albania, Paraguay, Kyrgyzstan and a few others. None have huge populations or a lot of industry, and all have very good renewable energy resources, mostly hydro. Why the German Energiewende is significant is that it was the first populous, heavily industrialized country to make this a specified policy objective. Now most countries are moving in this general direction. The Ember website has data for nearly all countries. Many countries in the global south are still witnessing increases in electricity demand, and so globally coal use increased slightly last year. However it looks increasingly likely that global coal use will peak this year, or maybe next, then plateau for a couple of years before beginning an increasingly rapid decline. China’s massive recent investments in renewables are a harbinger of this.

To combat the global climate and ecological crisis humanity needs to change in many ways. One of the most obvious, and important, is to stop burning fossil fuels. Changing how we generate electricity is a big part of this, and the falling demand and increasing use of renewables that this graph shows for Germany gives inspiration for other countries to follow. It makes economic and ecological sense. Every year this transition becomes easier as renewable energy gets better and cheaper, energy storage technologies improve and grids are interconnected. This is one area where humanity is (albeit falteringly, chaotically and despite powerful vested interests) moving in the right direction.

4 thoughts on “Inspirational Change: German Electricity

  1. Chris Watson

    This makes a good read Richard Thank you.
    It would be very interesting to see a similar graph for the UK, which would test the assertion (most probably false) that we are world leaders in this field, though going vaguely in the same direction.

    1. Richard Post author

      Hi Chris
      Sorry to be slow to reply. UK is on a similar trajectory. Durham University publish real time data and the graph of UK electricity generation since 2012 shows similar useful decline in overall consumption (driven by greater efficiency) and a good increase in renewables, especially wind, which taken together mean coal use and therefore carbon emissions have declined. Many western industrial countries show a similar patter. Not fast enough, so much more could be done, but still some grounds for optimism.

  2. David Lovelace

    Happy 2024 Richard! You need to drastically revise your article on Germany energy.
    45.5% of Germany’s energy comes from fossil fuels dirtier than oil! A whopping 20.1% comes from lignite essentially buried wood-based peat having higher GHG emissions due its high water content. Solid hard coal makes up 11.3% and gas-power + oil 14.1%. Angela Merkel’s disastrous friendship with Putin locked Germany and much of the rest of EU into Russian oil dependency. She also equally disastrously agreed with the German Die Grunen to close down the best GHG-free energy source nuclear, now reduced to a pathetic 6.5%. Germany’s 32.4 % energy from Wind + Solar requires massive investment in large-scale industrial battery-based energy storage, transformers and transmission cabling costing billions and producing mega tons of CO2 in building, not to mention scarring the German landscape. Germany probably runs the least environmentally sustainable energy of any country in the world, amazing achievement! Figures same as yours but better displayed from If Earth can avoid direct meteor strike while avoiding any stooker finals events the planet will survive 2024.

    1. Richard Post author

      Dave, your link to the statistica is out of date: only shows data for 2022, and no change over time. (The Statictica site is also restricted access, so not very helpful. Many better sources of into)
      The graph I showed was chosen to show the changes, which have been particularly impressive over the last couple of years, especially so over the last 12 months.
      You may have seen that Germany has closed down 7 lignite power stations during the last month or so.
      Also, Ember reports that across the EU fossilfuel generation dropped by an impressive 19% during 2023 driven by several factors: falling demand, rising solar & wind generation, and increased hydro due to end of a drought, (the drought had interupted French nuclear production in 2022, and that came back on-stream in 2023, which helped achieve the 19% reduction in a single year) The Ember report is well worth reading
      I stand by all that I wrote in this blog.
      Best wishes


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