Increasing emissions despite an ever increasing share of renewables

In an earlier post I made the remark that the 2015 emissions of Germany are considered to be higher compared to 2014. There were also an article on the Agora-energiewende-site that said something similar. In the meanwhile Green Budget Germany made an estimate for 2015 based on the energy consumption. The numbers don’t exactly match those I saw in the Greenpeace brochure, but the trend seems similar. I understand that those are estimations and there seems to be more than one estimation. According to the estimate, CO2-eq. emissions rose by 10 Mton (from 902 to 912 Mton) in 2015 compared to 2014:

Source: Clean Energy Wire, data from German Environment Agency (UBA) and Green Budget Germany

Source: Clean Energy Wire, data from German Environment Agency (UBA) and Green Budget Germany

That should be food for thought for the many supporters of the energiewende. Germany invested heavily in the transition and the share of alternative energy went up incredibly. Yet even with that effort they don’t manage to decrease their emissions, even INcrease it.

We have heard from those supporters that CO2 emissions go down because of the ever rising share of renewables, that those renewables more than compensate the nuclear phase-out and so on and so on. Now we could turn that around and say that apparently even a 26% share of renewable energy in the energy mix is no guarantee that CO2 emissions go down. Remember, Germany is far ahead in the process of the transition and considered a shining example for other countries.

I heard the increase explained by the cold winter, the refugee crisis and improved economic growth. That is perfectly plausible, but with so much cheering about the virtues of the increasing share of renewables, wouldn’t one expect some improvement?

An increase in emissions despite the increasing share of renewables is not exactly a surprise to me. It is a consequence of promoting intermittent power sources without setting up of energy storage. This explains the reluctance of CO2 emissions to go down as well as the the increased export of electricity to the neighboring countries.

At times there is not (much) wind or sun, another energy source will have to take over. Because pumped storage is almost non existent and biomass is used as base load, this will be fossil fuel energy sources (however strange it may seem, in practice this seems to be coal). This means that those plants should be spinning in the background and there is also an impact on the efficiency of those turbines (efficiency will go down, meaning more fuel will be used and therefor more emissions than when the plant would run at optimal power).

Also the conventional energy sources have a hard time competing with the subsidized renewables and therefor energy providers will prefer cheaper energy sources with more emissions like lignite (which is readily available in Germany).

The inability of coal to follow the intermittent energy production adequately and the lack of energy storage means that when more energy is produced than used/stored, energy needs to be exported and hopefully the neighboring countries can make use of it.

However, those only listening to the cheering majority only giving one-sided information about the energiewende (like the brochure that was the grateful topic for the last seven posts), they will be utterly surprised by this increase.


6 thoughts on “Increasing emissions despite an ever increasing share of renewables

  1. manicbeancounter

    Another interesting aspect is that from 1990 to 2015 overall emissions have fallen by 27%. Most of this reduction was prior to to the big investments in green energy.
    At the end of last year I looked at an emissions forecast model that looked at the impact of the emissions reductions policy proposals.
    One follow-up item not so far used, was an historical emissions per capita graph for the USA, EU, Canada and Australia. For the emissions per capita have been falling since 1980. For the USA since 1973. Reductions until at least 2000 nothing to do with renewables policies to save the planet. It was likely to due to loss of heavy industries to emerging nations; efficiency gains following the oil price rises; and switching from coal to gas (esp UK) and nuclear (esp France) for electricity generation.

    1. trustyetverify Post author

      That is a smart observation. The big savings were all done in the first half of the graph when alternative energy still had a tiny to non-existing share. In this case it had more to do with the cleanup of the inefficient, heavily polluting industry of East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was not the result of the investments to curb emissions. But that will be the subject of one of the next posts about the original source of the data.

    2. poitsplace

      I agree with beancounter. The sad thing is that the industries were basically driven out by pseudo-liberal delusion…the ever-increasing regulation and a virtual war on skilled labor (encouraging educational establishments above learning a skill/trade) by well intentioned intellectuals that didn’t realize…those people are actually needed.


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