Germany’s Carbon Emissions Fall as Renewable Energy Takes the Lead

Agora Energiewende logo 2014 may have marked an inflection point in the transition to clean, renewable energy in Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the fifth largest in the world. Collectively, renewable energy resources supplied more electricity in Germany than any other category last year, surpassing lignite coal for the first time, according to Agora Energiewende‘s 2014 annual report.

Renewable energy resources, including wind, hydro, solar and biomass, accounted for 27.3 percent of German electricity generation in 2014, according to Agora’s The Energiewende in the Power Sector: State of Affairs 2014. Significantly, greenhouse gas emissions and electric power consumption both declined, and wholesale power prices fell to a record-low while Germany’s economy expanded 1.4 percent.

Commenting on the confluence of positive developments, Agora Energiewende Director Dr. Patrick Graichen said: “In 2013, we could still see an increase in the undesirable emission of carbon dioxide, parallel to the rise in renewables. At the time, we called this the Energiewende Paradox. Today we can say that this trend has been broken – energy from renewables continues to grow and greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing again.”

A turning point in Germany’s renewable energy transition?

A tapering off in wind power production in October and November was followed by a record amount of wind power generation in December. Overall, a mild winter resulted in a low amount – 60-70 gigawatts – of power demand, Agora Energiewende highlights in its 2014 annual report.

Germany net electricity generation, 1Q 2014. Click through to the report for full size.
Germany net electricity generation, 1Q 2014. Click through to the report for full size.

A sunny summer led to lots in the way of solar energy production in Q3 2014, while both wind and solar power production levels were high in the spring second quarter. Renewable energy resources met 28.5 percent of Germany’s overall electricity demand through the first half of 2014.

A troubling uptick in coal combustion, and hence carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, had been recorded in recent years as Germany carried out the process of decommissioning its fleet of 22 nuclear power plants. Utilities opted to burn more hard and lignite coal to make up for the shortfall as opposed to natural gas, which is much more expensive in Germany.

That changed in 2014. Germany’s annual greenhouse gas emissions fell substantially, to their second-lowest level since 1990, last year. Lower coal prices, and a mild winter, were the main contributors. Furthermore, Graichen of Agora Energiewende explains:

“The main reason for lower CO2 emissions, according to the analysis, is that after pushing gas-fired power plants out of the market, renewables are now crowding out climate-damaging hard-coal power plants. ‘Hard coal and gas are the losers in the power mix. Lignite-fired power plants, on the other hand, are still producing at a high level.”

Falling prices, falling greenhouse gas emissions and a growing economy

What’s more, the upward trend in wholesale electricity prices also reversed course. Wholesale electricity prices on the Leipzig power market fell to a record-low 33 euros per megawatt-hour in 2014 as compared to 38 euros in 2013, according to Agora Energiewende’s report.

Germany: Share of energy sources in gross power production in 2014 (2013 valuesin parentheses). Click through to the report for full size.
Germany: Share of energy sources in gross power production in 2014 (2013 valuesin parentheses). Click through to the report for full size.

Declining German power prices prompted its European neighbors to import more electricity from Germany, a record amount as it turns out. On a net basis, neighboring countries imported 34.1 terawatt-hours of German electrical energy – 5.6 percent of Germany’s total electricity generation in 2014 — which was a slight uptick from 2013.

“We appear to have reached the maximum possible in electricity exports,” Graichen commented.

Looking forward, Agora Energiewende foresees further declines in German electricity prices in 2015. Two factors will be the main drivers, Agora elaborates: “Forward contracts for 2015 purchases of electricity on the power exchange as well as the renewable energy surcharge are lower than in 2014. Many electricity distributors will pass these advantages on to their customers.”

Moreover, Agora points out, the number of hours where electricity prices were negative in Germany in 2014 increased to 64, “the same number as in 2013, although the share of wind and solar power had increased significantly.

“That this was successful is perhaps the best news for the power system,” Graichen said. “It shows that even a system with a lot of wind and solar power is technologically manageable.”

*Images credit: Agora Energiewende

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

5 responses

  1. Switching to renewable, sustainable energy will stimulate the economy, create jobs, save money and clean up the environment. “Is it too hard to go to the moon, eradicate smallpox or end apartheid? Is it too hard to build a computer that fits in your pocket? No? Then it’s not too hard to build a clean energy future, either.”

  2. Latest optimisation simulations on an hourly energy balance model from the
    Fraunhofer Institute on the cost of the Energieweinde …. its

    81% CO2 reduction of the energy system
    (electricity, transport, heating…) with 66% high renewables by 2050
    with storage of electricity but also heat (inc solar assisted district
    heating) for heating, …plus energy efficiency 5%. Note no nuclear.


    Holistic Modelling and Analysis of a Future German Energy System


    The authors of this white paper state that they fully support renewables as a part of the overall power portfolio. All the authors have worked with both electric utilities and purely renewable companies. Some of them have 20+ years of experience in the power sector, and a couple have direct equity interests in renewable project.

    From the Executive Summary

    “Policymakers underestimated the cost of renewable subsidies and the strain they would have on national economies. As an example, Germany’s FIT (Feed In Tariff) program has cost more than $412 billion to date (including granted and guaranteed, but not yet paid FIT). Former German Minister of the Environment Peter Altmaier recently estimated that the program costs would reach $884 billion (€680 billion2) by 2022. He added that this figure could increase further if the market price of electricity fell, or if the rules and subsidy levels whee not changed. Moreover, it is estimated that Germany will pay $31.1 billion in subsidies for 2014 alone.4 A recent analysis5 found that from 2008 to 2013, Germany incurred $67.6 billion (€52 billion) in net export losses because of its high energy costs, compared to its five leading trade partners. Losses in energy intensive industries accounted for 60 percent of the total losses. This was further highlighted by a recent International Energy Agency report, which stated that the European Union (EU) is expected to lose one-third of its global market share of energy intensive exports over the next two decades due to high energy prices,6 expensive energy imports of gas and oil, as well as costly domestic subsidies for renewable energy.”

    1. Hi alpha2actual,

      Let’s not forget that all of Germany’s coal, gas, oil, and nuclear power plants have been very heavily subsidized for decades.

      Not to mention that a some portion of the global fossil fuel subsidy of $600 billion dollars in 2014 ($550 billion in 2013) total is paid by Germans.

      And, that fossil fuel externalities cost multi-billions in healthcare costs, lost productivity, acid rain — which affects both agriculture and steel, iron, bronze statues, and concrete buildings (spalling), climate and leaves Germany vulnerable to political developments in other nations that export fossil fuels to Germany.

      The costs of nuclear externalities do not need to be discussed at length, we only need to look at WindScale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima-Daiichi and other accidents and the extremely high costs of storing spent nuclear fuels for up to 20,000 years (in the case of certain spent fuels) in secure, climate controlled conditions. The costs of securing nuclear materials in Germany from terrorism and theft alone, is as high as the cost of the renewable energy subsidies.

      Put it all together into the larger picture, and yes, the conversion to renewable energy (especially when rushed into service to replace 8 of Germany’s old, and problem-plagued n-power plants) has a certain amount of cost attached to it.

      But that is nothing, literally nothing! — when compared to the above subsidies and externality costs of conventional energy.

      When you look at the big picture, renewable energy is a deal!

      Cheers, JBS

      More info for you:

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