20 Dec 2016, 00:00
Julian Wettengel

German carbon emissions rise in 2016 despite coal use drop

Greenhouse gas emission trends in Germany by sector 1990 - 2016. Data source - UBA 2017.
German energy-related CO₂ emissions rose almost 1 percent in 2016, despite a fall in coal use and the ongoing expansion of renewable energy sources, according to first estimates by energy market research group AG Energiebilanzen. A rise in overall energy consumption covered in parts by an increased use of natural gas and diesel for electricity, heat and transport further dented the chances that Germany will reach its 2020 climate targets. The head of Germany’s utilities lobby BDEW said that a stronger focus on natural gas could help to bring emissions down more quickly.

The country’s total energy consumption rose by 1.6 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, according to AG Energiebilanzen (AGEB). Colder weather, 2016’s leap day, a growing economy and population growth outweighed any energy savings, writes AGEB in a press release.

The latest data underpins many experts’ view that Germany was unlikely to meet the target of reducing primary energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 compared to 2008 levels. Applying AGEB’s estimates, energy consumption in 2016 is 6.6 percent lower than in 2008.

Primary energy consumption is also crucial to determining Germany’s CO₂ emissions. The country of the Energiewende, the dual move to phase-out nuclear power and cut carbon emissions, has made great strides in increasing the share of renewables in power generation, but CO2 emissions have remained stubbornly high, making it increasingly unlikely Germany will reach its target of cutting emissions 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

AGEB estimated that energy-related CO₂ emissions grew by 0.9 percent in 2016. All energy-related emissions make up about 85 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) will publish first detailed estimates of total greenhouse gas emissions for 2016 next March.

German energy sources' share in primary energy consumption 1990 - 2016. Source - AG Energiebilanzen 2016.

Hard coal and lignite consumption fell 4 percent and 2.6 percent respectively, while natural gas-fired and renewable power generation increased, writes AGEB. The CO₂ emissions saved through the drop of coal use were more than offset by an increase in consumption of mineral oil and a 10 percent jump in the use of natural gas.

The 1.8 percent increase of mineral oil consumption was mainly due to a higher use of diesel fuel in transport, a sector that has seen almost no change in emissions since 2007.

 Energy sources' share in primary energy consumption. Source - AG Energiebilanzen 2016.


Renewable energy sources increased their share slightly to a 12.6 percent of total primary energy consumption. Consumption of nuclear energy fell 7.4 percent compared to 2015, which was due to several planned outings, and because the nuclear power station Grafenrheinfeld went offline in June 2015.

Development of primary energy consumption in Germany 2015 - 2016. Source - BDEW 2016.

BDEW: Natural gas “must play central role” in energy supply

The head of Germany’s utilities lobby BDEW told journalists at the association’s year-end media conference that too much focus was on long-term targets, ignoring solutions to the near-term challenges. “We debate too much about distant targets. Those are not Germany’s core challenge. The question is: How do we eliminate CO₂ from our system as fast as possible?” BDEW-head Stefan Kapferer said at a press conference in Berlin.

Kapferer said natural gas provided a solution as its use leads to less emissions than coal, which still provides more than 40 percent of the country’s gross power generation. “Natural gas must play a central role in Germany’s energy supply until 2050,” said Kapferer. “It can be used to pick the low hanging fruits in the short term and support the country’s energy supply through technologies like power-to-gas in the long term.”

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