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The German Energy transition in four graphs

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The energiewende made possible the large-scale adoption of solar collectors (here, a farm in the Black Forest)

The Energiewende made possible the large-scale adoption of solar collectors (here, a farm in the Black Forest)

Germany is often in the news for its Energiewende, the energy transition. The idea was to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced while keeping the economy going. This was done by encouraging the growth of renewable energy ( wind, solar, and biomass), and improving energy efficiency (with programs such as subsidies for building insulation). In a peculiar German twist, the other objective was to phase out nuclear energy.

The program has been much criticized in some quarters (hello, fossil fuel lobby!) but the results have been remarkable. There were fears that manufacturing was going to grind to a halt because of high electricity costs; that phasing out nukes was going to result in more coal being burned; that solar and wind, being intermittent, are incompatible with an industrial society; or that Germany was going to become reliant on electricity imports.

Well, here are some graphs of results over time, courtesy of the blog Energy Transition.


In the first graph, one can see the gross electricity demand (in blue), compared to the GDP (in red). Last year, the German economy grew by 1.4%. Electricity demand dropped by stunning 4%. In fact, the demand is almost back to the baseline level of 1990, while the economy has grown by over 40% in the same time span.


We can also see here above that the 2014 electricity generation in Germany from hard coal (anthracite) at a record low.


As shown above, 2014 was a record year for net power exports from Germany: 34 TWh of electricity. In the graph below, blue is electricity production while red is domestic demand. This wasn’t the case in 1990, before the start of the Energiewende program. (And note the clear impact of the Euro crisis on both exports and production in 2009!)


Since 2008, electricity prices on Germany’s wholesale market have actually continuously dropped (in the graph above, blue is baseload price and red is peak). The spread between the two is fairly small, putting the lie to the idea that renewables being intermittent would drive peak prices skyhigh. Sure, the prices are higher than in BC (about 60 cents per KWh); we have some of the cheapest electricity around. But what is key here is the remarkable downward trend: once the windmills and solar panels are up, well, the wind and sun are free. Something to keep in mind when investing in energy projects!


Written by enviropaul

January 7, 2015 at 5:57 pm

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