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Why Renewable Energies are Causing an Increase of Coal Power in Germany

Opinions differ about the German energy transition. As always with energy, it is important to look at the actual facts and statistics while paying attention to the details; such as the difference between electricity production (GWh and installed capacity (GW). 

Here are four key statistics from Germany´s energy transition.

1) Renewable energy has increased while nuclear power has decreased.

2) The amount of lignite and coal used has slightly increased since 2010. 

3) The carbon intensity of the energy sector has increased in Germany while it has decreased in Europe. The carbon intensity of the energy sector in Germany is 44% higher compared to France.germannco2intens redline


4) Electricity prices has drastically increased. (Causing prolems for Germany’s poorer population)

Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) , Data on energy price trends

It is sometimes debated If Germany really has increased it’s use of coal and it’s COemissions. The validity of these statements depend on which dataset timeframe that is examined. It is not debatable, however that the carbon intensity of the power sector has increased since 2010 and that the rapid increase of renewable energy in Germany has greatly increased the electricity prices.  Germany´s COemissions dropped about 10% between 2000 and 2009, this is in stark contrast to the last 5 years during which there has been almost no change in CO2 emissions at all.  

In Germany, as in many other electricity markets, electricity is bought and sold either for the next day, or for the next hour. The price depends on supply and demand and there is also an option to import and export electricity. Renewable energies are guaranteed a price, and also the ability to sell all the electricity they produce. This creates a smaller market for fossil fuels. Because of the high marginal cost of gas power plants they cannot compete with coal power in the new smaller electricity market. Several gas power plants in Germany have closed the last years for this reason. This has created a situation where coal power has increased while gas power has decreased. The COemissions from a gas power is about half compared to coal power, and therefore the transition from gas to coal has increased the carbon intensity of Germany’s power production.

This trend could continue as long as coal prices are low compared to gas. Since 2010 coal prices have slightly decreased while German gas prices have increased.

The price of coal and gas can of course change. Germany is currently subsidizing coal with 1.65 billion EUR but this subsidy is planned to be removed by 2018. This, together with a potential  CO2 tax or cap, could increase the price of coal making gas more competitive.

In summary; Germany is subsidizing both coal and renewable energy while closing its nuclear power plant. This has caused high electricity prices without a reduction in emissions.


A longer discussion of gas and oil in Germany

Some statistics on German energy sources

How the German electricity market operates,prope...

The relationship between increased renewable energy and electricity price

Mika Reichel's picture

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 30, 2015 4:25 pm GMT

Mika, looking at the Energiewende in sheer numbers it appears that renewables have replaced nuclear, with coal left untouched. All in all, German Greens will be hard-pressed to eke out permanent carbon reductions with intermittent sources which require fossil backup. “Biomass”, or burning the Black Forest/imported wood pellets, is not a renewable resource in the context of any appropriate timeframe (when Brazilians do it, Germans use the less-flattering title Entwaldung – “deforestation”).

With VW in dire straits and 265,000 jobs on the line, the prospect of saving a little money might help some find a way to overcome their phobia of nuclear energy. I find it hard to believe they’re incapable of recognizing the irony of consuming more French nuclear, generated upwind just over the border, while chanting “Atomkraft, Nein Danke!”.

Joe Schiewe's picture
Joe Schiewe on Nov 30, 2015 4:33 pm GMT

“In summary; Germany is subsidizing both coal and renewable energy while closing its nuclear power plant. This has caused high electricity prices without a reduction in emissions.”

It is hard to not to believe that the results were exactly their intent and shows the desire to lock in fossil fuels for a long time.  

Mika Reichel's picture
Mika Reichel on Nov 30, 2015 5:21 pm GMT

I very mush agree with you. 

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Dec 1, 2015 2:43 pm GMT


I suggest the following piece looking at the German electricity sector’s ‘revolution’ from 1990. It breaks down the periods to show the major effects.

One point to note is that most of German solar was added after 2009. The affect of this on CO2 emissions has been limited in the face of other issues.


donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Dec 1, 2015 2:41 pm GMT


Please stop osting rubbish. When the energiewinde was setup first, its primary target was (and still is according to Fraunhofer) to reduce CO2

Mika Reichel's picture
Mika Reichel on Dec 1, 2015 6:18 pm GMT

Som, Thank you for your interesting comments,
1) Coal is much more dangerous than Coal. So much that even the population of Chernobyl should be thankful the Soviet did not place a coal plant in their town. (I write about this in my blog )
2) Everyone could invest and be a part of a utility company. Only the rich could a) afford a villa and b) afford to invest in solar. (I also write about this
3) The goal should be reduction off emissions. Not the way to achieve it
4) Germany still has a very dirty energy mix compared to most OECD countries.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Dec 2, 2015 10:22 am GMT

An interesting comment from the link

“The majority of the emission declines were achieved during the first period [1990-1993]. A modest decline was noted in the first year [1990-1991] and all of this was due to reduced lignite. If this could have been continued to current times, grid emissions would stand at the 260 Mt mark. This more or less would indicate no lignite or at least much reduced lignite and hard coal. That in the German context is what a revolution would look like.”

So the liks of Bas oh er I mean Som have inherently being supporting coal.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Dec 2, 2015 4:34 pm GMT

Bas er I mean Som

Can you stay on topic please. This is about coal in the electricity sector and that sector’s emissions. Overall declines since 1990 have more or less been independent of the electricity sector as the data shows so bringing this up does not add anything.

Further saying that France will not reach its 20% target is hardly honest is it? It is much harder for France to reach its target as it is already on a emissions level that is far better than Germany. For for some reason you wish to support continued subsidy for coal. Even if Germany reaches its target, it will still have far higher emissions than other countires.

Further since 2005, Germany has been one of the worst performers in reducing CO2 emissions in the EU. As the link shows, most reductions came in the early 1990’s i.e. east German closures. They made their cuts in electricity generation emissions by the very method you decry. How is that coherent?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 2, 2015 6:36 pm GMT

Bas, “closing all nuclear asap” is not their intent. Shutting down nuclear tomorrow is possible; Merkel has set a target date seven years distant. That will disappear once Germans realize radiation from Fukushima won’t kill them and come out from hiding underneath their beds.

“Such harsh, polarizing behavior is not acceptable nowadays here.” By “here”, I assume you’re referring to your home country of the Netherlands, which increased its coal generation by 10% in the year 2014 alone (2 GW). In my opinion, that constitutes harsh, polarizing environmental behavior. Perhaps you should be commenting on Dutch blogs?

Joe Schiewe's picture
Joe Schiewe on Dec 2, 2015 6:20 pm GMT

Som, I wonder if you actually believe what you are stating.  As long asGermany,Netherlandsand many other countries continue to build and subsidize fossil fuel power plants, especially lignite coal plants and mines – it will be nearly impossible for me to believe that wasn’t and still is their intent. Germanymade a choice and that was to emit more CO2 into the environment every year than they did in 2009.   I wouldn’t be too hard on them though for near term greed, fear, comfort, power and security typically wins out when it comes to nearly all energy decisions.  It is hard (now perhaps impossible forGermany) to give up our fossil fuel masters and slaves and we should admit it.  

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