Germany’s measures, while possibly a temporary reaction to an abrupt reduction in Russian gas supplies, call into serious question its climate credentials, as well as those of the EU
The carbon intensity of Germany’s electricity generation has exceeded 700 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour (gCO₂eq/kWh) as of November 29, 2022, and is going as high as 765 gm, due to a higher infusion of coal in the power mix.
For reference, average hourly data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) for India shows a maximum carbon intensity of 718.7 gm for 2018.
Data compiled by Our World in Data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy and Ember, shows that annual carbon intensity of power was 541 gm for China, 626 gm for India and 665 gm for South Africa in 2021. The same annual figure for Germany in 2021 was 352 gm, pointing to the current spike being anomalous, but still significant.
The November 2022 data is sourced from Electricity Maps (EM), an analytics platform that maps live global electricity data on an hourly basis, for select regions with corresponding emissions from the power sector.
The trend was highlighted on microblogging site Twitter by Cuneyt Kazokoglu, an energy analyst at FGE, a consulting firm. “For reference, the carbon intensity of China’s power generation was 550 grams per kilowatt hour (g/kWh) in 2021. That’s climate hypocrisy for you,” he added.
I can't remember having seen seen German #electricity generation so #CO2 intense - 765g/kWh is crazy high! They just burn #coal, supplemented with a bit of gas. For reference, the carbon intensity of China's power generation was 550g/kWh in 2021. That's climate hypocrisy for you. pic.twitter.com/nkdlJ7hrwN— Cuneyt Kazokoglu (@ckazok) November 29, 2022
Critics were quick to point out that this is likely a temporary blip for Germany in the wake of the war in Ukraine and the resultant energy crisis. EM’s platform shows that a month ago on October 29, the carbon intensity of power in Germany was 477g, with only 27 per cent of the electricity coming from coal.
On November 30, carbon intensity shot up to 747 g (6:30 AM reading), with 48 per cent of electricity generated from coal. The EM platform applies an emissions factor of 1,152 gCO₂eq/kWh to coal.
Germany burns a higher proportion of lignite than anthracite for electricity production, with the former producing more CO2 emissions than the latter.
Source: Electricity Maps
Europe is in the midst of what has been termed a ‘generational’ energy crisis. The vacuum created by the absence of Russian gas has sent the continent scrambling for alternative energy sources.
Germany is perhaps the worst-affected as it was highly dependent on piped gas from Russia — 55 per cent of its gas imports came from Russia in 2021. Wind is a major source of power in Germany, with its contribution to power generation frequently equaling coal, as data on the EM platform shows.
Read DTE’s COP27 coverage
In February 2022, wind generation exceeded coal, with the resulting carbon intensity of the power sector clocking in at 276g during that month. Readings from the past few days have shown considerably low wind penetration, with only five per cent of power coming from wind on November 30.
As a part of its clean energy policy, Germany passed legislation in 2020 to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2038, but then brought back coal-fired power plants into the country’s energy mix due to an escalating gas shortage.
Some have pointed out that Germany’s strict anti-nuclear policy, which planned closure of its last nuclear power plants by 2022, has led to a backsliding towards coal, when renewable sources are unable to fulfill demand.
This month, Germany also signed a 15-year deal to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar and is constructing four new floating LNG terminals.
The European Union’s scramble to find diverse sources to fulfill its energy needs, be it more coal, LNG or nuclear places it in the shoes of the developing world, where coal-dependent countries have repeatedly called for a gradual shift to zero-carbon energy so as not to compromise their energy access or developmental goals.
But the EU’s positions at multilateral climate forums shows little cognizance of this complexity.
For instance, their criticism of India’s support for a coal ‘phasedown’ at the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Or their threats to walk out of COP27 discussions if the goal of stronger emissions cuts was compromised.
The EU supported India’s call for a ‘phasedown of all fossil fuels’ at COP27 provided that “this call does not diminish the earlier agreements we had on phasing down coal”.
Germany’s measures, while possibly a temporary reaction to an abrupt reduction in Russian gas supplies, call into serious question its climate credentials, as well as those of the EU.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.