A Greenpeace study reveals what the feted Paris Climate Agreement implies for the German public. If implemented, Germany will be unrecognizable in a few years.
There was much cheering when representatives of 195 nations agreed a new global climate deal in December last year in Paris. Many environmental politicians had tears in their eyes as the international community agreed they would limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Yet many governments had no idea what would be necessary to achieve this objective when the first 170 government ministers, including Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (SPD), signed the Paris climate agreement at the United Nations headquarters in New York in April. After all, the agreement demands global “decarbonisation” – i.e. the end of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This requirement is equivalent to the end of all combustion processes in engines, boilers and power plants – because they emit CO2.
But what this exactly means if you want to get rid of all carbonaceous petroleum fuels and replace them with green electricity has now been analysed in a new Greenpeace study. It is the first major study on the topic of “sector coupling” – i.e. the expansion of the Energy Transition (Energiewende) to transport and heating. According to the calculations of study author Volker Quaschning of the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin (HTW), “the production of cars with gasoline and diesel engines has to end by 2025 and main roads will have to be fitted with overhead electrical lines for freight transportation.” The study also finds that Germany’s Autobahn too will need to have overhead catenary akin to overhead railway lines because the entire bus and freight transport needs to be electrified within a short period of time. The decarbonisation study, however, does not include any cost estimates.
Neither does the study elaborate what the politically decreed death of the combustion engine by 2025 would mean for Germany’s car industry, its competitiveness, its jobs and Germany’s industrial base. That’s because there are other important construction sites, such as in the real estate sector: “Because heating systems have a product cycles of up to 20 years, a ban on the fitting of new oil and gas heating and CHP plants will be necessary by 2020 to achieve decarbonisation by 2040,” the study says literally.
German heating engineers would have to switch production now
That would hit builders hard: Highly efficient and cheap gas boilers have been by far the most desired heating system among homebuilders. But because decarbonisation stands in their way, gas boilers may have to end up in the Museum of Technology in four years time. Viessmann, Vaillant and Co, Europe’s leading heating engineers, would have to change their production almost immediately because they are expected shortly to sell only heat pumps powered by renewable energy.
The same technology ban threatens the combined heat and power electricity and heat production in so-called cogeneration plants. Cogeneration technology is believed to be unmatched in terms of energy efficiency and was therefore heavily subsidised by the federal government. Many municipal utilities (Stadtwerke) rely on thermal power stations with cogeneration technology. But because cogeneration plants usually run on natural gas they are, according to the Greenpeace study, “unsuitable for the decarbonisation of the energy transition ” and are “no longer to be built by 2020”.
However, if all cars and all heaters operating in Germany are only to run on renewable energy, much more green kilowatt hours are needed, of course. According to the study, German electricity consumption would increase five-fold, from around 600 terawatt hours today to 3120 TWh in 2040. That’s a number that requires a certain ability to rethink even among converted Energy Transition protagonists.
That’s because in the years before the nuclear accident in Fukushima and until recently, all forecasts, studies and estimates without exception assumed that as a result of the Energiewende German electricity consumption would decline. The German public widely believed the official forecasts probably also because it gave rise to the hope that it would also denote the end of the construction of ever new wind turbines.
Current energy consumption increases five-fold, instead of sinking
The “Energy Concept of the Federal Government” which is still current policy proclaimed in 2010 that the goal was to cut German electricity consumption by ten percent by 2020. The justification for this reduction target was that it was a necessary requirement of climate protection. Now it is becoming evident that Germany’s climate policy does not only fail to decrease current energy demand, but to an increase by up to five times. Even the Greenpeace study admits that “a demand of 3,000 terawatt hours supplied by renewable energy by 2040 is considered to be a futile exercise.” No wonder: Today, green energy producers supply only 200 terawatt-hours per year.
Hence, the HTW study imagines all sorts of possible “efficiency gains ” in its calculations such as the prohibition of the combustion engine and untapped power savings in industry. If that were to happen, Germany’s electricity demand would only double by 2040 to approximately 1320 terawatt hours. But even this reduced target would still mean a six-fold increase in green electricity production. Thus the Greenpeace study assumes that the generating capacity of onshore wind turbines would have to quintuple from around 40 gigawatts today to 200 gigawatts.
Given that wind turbines are getting higher and more powerful, probably not the fivefold increase in the number of wind turbines in Germany is required. Maybe four times or three times is enough. But even in this case rural residents and their children will have to mentally prepare for an increase in the next few years from 26,000 wind turbines today to 80,000 rotor towers, if the study correctly describes how to achieve the climate targets agreed in Paris.
The amendment of the Renewable Energies Act (EEG) starts its way through parliament on Tuesday. It provides fixed annual expansion targets for wind and solar power generation. Although the targets are at the top end of what has been achieved in recent years, they are not nearly enough to achieve the Parisian climate targets, according to Greenpeace study. Onshore wind power would need to be expanded by 6.3 gigawatts (GW) each year and not by 2.8 GW, as envisaged in the new EEG. And photovoltaics would require an installed capacity of 15 GW annually instead of the 2.5 GW target of the new EEG.