Germany wants to do more to protect the environment. Following a decision by the Constitutional Court in March, the government announced that by 2030 CO2 emissions should be reduced by 65% from 1990 levels and not by 55% as originally planned. Achieving this goal will require more electricity from renewable sources than expected.
The goal seems difficult, and as usual, the devil is in the details. In order to achieve this goal, further development and expansion of wind and solar power capacities is needed. How much more depends on estimates of electricity consumption in 2030.
So far, the German Economy Ministry has assumed that electricity consumption will not change significantly over the next nine years and will remain at around 580 terawatt-hours (TWh). A look back seems to confirm it.
“Over the past 10 or 20 years electricity consumption has been relatively constant,” said Johannes Wagner of the Institute for Energy Economics (EWI) at the University of Cologne. “We have had gross electricity consumption of around 600 terawatt hours over a long period. It did not drop sharply until 2020 due to the effects of the coronavirus.”
Will Germany need more electricity in 2030?
But what was true in the past may not necessarily apply in the future. Various experts assume that the government’s planning is too careful. The Social Democratic chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz criticized him recently. “Anyone who claims that electricity use will stay the same until 2030 is lying to themselves and the country,” he said.
What if energy consumption doesn’t stay the same? What if it increased? What if it increased sharply? This is the scenario that various energy experts assume.
“The expert commission for monitoring the energy transition, to which I belong, has estimated that electricity consumption will be significantly higher than the government thinks,” Veronika Grimm told DW. “We’re coming down to around 650 terawatt hours and so we’re still in the lower end of the spectrum,” she said.
Agora Energiewende, a think tank specializing in energy, also mentions 650 terawatt-hours of electricity consumption in 2030. EWI in Cologne estimates that 685 terawatt-hours will then be needed.
The German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) estimates that it will be 745 terawatt-hours and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) forecasts electricity consumption of 780 terawatt-hours in 2030. That’s 70 to 200 terawatt hours more than the government forecasts.
Mobility concepts require a lot of electricity
According to experts, more electricity will be needed mainly due to the switch to e-mobility and the fact that buildings will be heated differently. At the same time, manufacturers will turn away from fossil fuels and turn to synthetic energy sources like hydrogen. But the production of green hydrogen also requires electricity.
On the other hand, there are efficiency gains that reduce electricity consumption. Here, the government has set a target of reducing electricity consumption by 25% by 2050 from 2008 levels through greater energy efficiency.
However, these efficiency gains cannot offset the additional demand for electricity, experts say. In addition, the great efficiency potentials have not yet been systematically used, although such technologies are already available, according to research by Agora Energiewende.
New overhead power lines did not perform well with many residents across Germany
Being energy efficient is not enough
The number of new wind turbines and photovoltaic installations that Germany needs depends on the evolution of its thirst for electricity. Using Agora Energiewende’s relatively low 2030 estimate, each year Germany is expected to add around 10 gigawatts of solar power, 1.7 gigawatts of wind power on land, and four to five gigawatts of wind power in sea.
“It’s roughly comparable to what we’ve had in recent years, in years of record expansion,” said Mara Kleiner of Agora Energiewende. “So, it is doable.”
However, the current growth of photovoltaic and wind power is below these highs. So more momentum is needed, according to Kleiner.
Veronika Grimm also believes that it will be difficult to significantly accelerate the expansion of renewables. Especially when it comes to onshore wind power, there are always protests from local residents.
“This is why we need to focus even more on offshore expansion,” said Grimm. But even that is not without problems, as new power lines are expected to be built across Germany – something else that often meets resistance.
It can only work in collaboration
And it probably won’t work on its own, either. “Germany is currently exporting electricity abroad,” said Wagner from EWI. “In the medium term, we can expect Germany to become a net importer for the first time.”
Manufacturing is one example. Here, Grimm believes that it will not be possible to increase the production of green hydrogen quickly enough. “We have to prepare to import green hydrogen at the same time,” she said. There are already various projects with Morocco, Chile, Australia and EU countries. In addition, blue hydrogen must also be used during a transition phase. Blue hydrogen is hydrogen produced from natural gas where CO2 emissions are captured and stored.
But first of all, the German government will have to recalculate the country’s future electricity needs. Today, even Chancellor Angela Merkel considers previous assumptions that demand for electricity will not increase is “probably not the test of time”.
The European Union is expected to propose new climate protection regulations in July. Then all EU countries will have to adapt their own measures to comply with rules that could be much stricter than before.
This article has been adapted from the German original.