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Renewables go head-to-head with coal in German power mix

Renewable energy capacity grew to claim a share of 35% in the electricity generation mix in Germany this year, pulling on par with coal-fired power plants that have seen their share decline over the same period, according to preliminary estimates.

Renewables gained 2 percentage points from the previous year while generation from lignite and hard coal declined from 37% in 2017, according to preliminary statistics released by German energy industry group BDEW. Other fuel sources, including gas, with 13%, and nuclear, with 12%, saw their shares remain largely unchanged, the group said.

The slow tilt toward green energy comes as Germany is looking to set a phase-out schedule for its large remaining fleet of coal-fired power plants. Some plants have already moved into a strategic reserve, to provide backup capacity only when needed, and now a government-appointed commission of industry representatives, environmental groups and other stakeholders is deliberating how to implement a socially just transition that will see the remaining stations shut down over the coming decades, with adequate provisions for the thousands employed in Germany's lignite mining and coal power industry.

After holding several high-profile, closed-door sessions in Germany's largest coal mining regions this year often accompanied by protests from miners the commission is now scheduled to release its final recommendations next February. Combined, hard coal and lignite generation capacity in Germany is still more than 40 GW, according to the federal network agency.

Renewables, led by onshore wind, will contribute 38% to Germany's gross electricity consumption this year, BDEW and ZSW, a research institute, estimate. Green energy sources, also including biomass, solar and offshore wind, reached their highest shares in January, April and May, when they covered 43% of demand.

Germany aims to meet 65% of its gross power demand from renewable sources by 2030, which BDEW Chairman Stefan Kapferer said could not be achieved without higher buildout targets, particularly for offshore wind, and better planning security for onshore wind projects.

In addition, the government should be careful not to water down any recommendations from the coal exit commission, he said.

"This body is likely to have a unique opportunity for a broad consensus on energy policy in terms of climate protection, security of supply and affordability, and avoiding structural breaks in the affected regions," he said. "In the energy sector of the commission, we were well on the way to a viable trade-off. This should not be thoughtlessly gambled away."

Seemingly finalized proposals from the commission have leaked to the press over the past months, including one plan for a gradual phase-out by 2038, but all have been quickly dismissed by the commission as a whole.