Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reducing a carbon footprint is harder than it looks

All that German effort to go green got a major setback in 2013. My explanation is that they are trying to do too many things at the same time.  It's bad enough that they were trying to replace coal fired plants without also suddenly trying to phase out nuclear as well.  After Fukushima, the highly organized anti-nuke forces pounced (and one can hardly blame them.)  But it would have probably been better to phase their nukes out over 20 years because something is going to have to provide baseload generation.  If it isn't nuclear, it will be burning brown coal.

The truth is, even the Germans don't know how to replace fire-based electrical generation.  And while it should be possible to run a society on wind and PV, a society with infrastructure designed to get power on demand will have serious problems converting to intermittent energy supplies.  Of course, a cheap and reliable electrical storage scheme would make that problem disappear in a heartbeat.

Germany's clean energy drive fails to curb 'dirty' coal power

uhe/ipj (AP, AFP, dpa) 7 JAN 2014

Germany’s switch to renewable energies is proving surprisingly good for brown coal as the use of it surged to a new high in 2013. Environmentalists are fuming and claim Germany’s clean energy image is sullied.

The share of German electricity generated from environmentally dirty brown coal rose 6.5 percent year-on-year in 2013, soaring to its highest level since 1990, latest energy industry figures released Tuesday showed.

Brown coal accounted for electricity to the tune of 162 billion kilowatt hours, equivalent to about 25 percent of Germany's total electricity production of 629 billion kilowatt hours in 2013, industry group Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen said.

The use of hard coal - compared with 2012 - also increased, the group added, rising by 8 billion to 124 billion kilowatt hours. As a result the two energy sources accounted for 45.5 percent of Germany's gross energy output, up from 44 percent the previous year.

According to the industry data, heavily subsidized renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydropower were also able to raise their contribution to the German energy mix. Rising to 23.4 percent, or 147 billion kilowatt hours, the share of green energy rose by less than 1 percent in 2013.

Energy experts said the gain in the use of pollutant coal was the result of a German policy aiming to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 and promoting the use of renewable forms of energy.

Gas-fired plants outpriced

More efficient and less polluting gas-fired power plants were currently crowded out of the market, they said, as and coal energy was substantially cheaper than electricity generated from gas.

German environmental organizations called on the government to make sure that coal power prices fully reflect their costs to the environment. BUND energy expert Tina Löffelsund said steps must be taken to increase the price of emissions certificates on the EU carbon market to force utilities to curb the use of coal.

According to BUND, the rise in coal power was threatening to undermine Germany's climate protection goals which includes a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. German emissions had risen steadily since 2009, the organization added, with especially strong increases recorded in 2012 and 2013. more

Green Revolution? German Brown Coal Power Output Hits New High


Germany plans to wean itself off CO2-belching coal-fired power stations. But new figures show that coal power output in 2013 reached its highest level in more than 20 years. Researchers blame cheap CO2 emissions permits, and demand urgent reforms.

In 1990, Germany's bown coal-fired power stations produced almost 171 billion kilowatt hours of power. At the time, many old eastern German plants were still in operation.

It was a situation that the German government wanted to change, with the aim being that of radically reducing the output of the CO2-polluting lignite plants, but that's not happening. In 2013, it rose to 162 billion kilowatt hours, the highest level since reunification in 1990, according to preliminary figures from AGEB, a collection of industry associations and research institutes.

Electricity output from brown coal plants rose 0.8 percent in 2013, said Jochen Diekmann of the German Institute for Economic Research. As a result, Germany's CO2 output is expected to have risen in 2013, even as power from renewable sources has reached 25 percent of the energy mix.

Part of the reason, said Diekmann, is the low price of CO2 emissions permits in EU trading scheme. Another reason is that new brown coal plants, with a capacity of 2,743 megawatts, came on line in 2012, far exceeding the 1,321 megawatts from old plants shut down that year.

The opposition Green Party called on the government to stop the trend. "Those serious about protecting the climate must ensure that less and less power is generated from brown coal," said Green Party politician Bärbel Höhn. CO2 emissions needed to be priced at a level that makes the more climate-friendly gas-fired power stations economical, she said. "Brown coal power stations, after nuclear plants, are the main source of profit for RWE and Co.," said Höhn, referring to Germany's major utilities. "So they don't even switch off the really old power stations."

Power output from anthracite coal also rose, by eight billion kilowatt hours to over 124 billion, while output from gas-fired plants fell by 10 billion to 66 billion. That means that coal plants are making up for the bulk of the energy production lost due to the 2011 shutdown of eight nuclear plants, while gas plants, which emit less CO2 but are more expensive to run, are barely profitable at present.

Energy Paradox

The increase in coal-generated power also led to a new record in German electricity exports to around 33 billion kilowatt hours. "In 2013 Germany exported more power than it imported on eight out of 10 days. Most of it was generated by from brown coal and anthracite power stations," said Patrick Graichen, a power market analyst at Berlin-based think tank Agora Energiewende. "They are crowding out gas plants not just in Germany but also abroad -- especially in the Netherlands."

Graichen said it was a paradox of Germany's "Energiewende," the energy revolution aimed at weaning the country off fossil fuel by 2050, that CO2 emissions were now rising despite the rapid expansion of solar and wind power. In 2014, the surcharge on electricity bills will provide some €23.5 billion of subsidies for renewable energies. A four-person household will pay a surcharge of almost €220 this year.

That, said Graichen, is due to the low price of CO2 permits. "The European market for emissions certificates must urgently be repaired to change that," he said. The volume of emissions certificates must be reduced in order to boost the price of CO2.

Gerald Neubauer of Greenpeace said Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, of the center-left Social Democrats, must stop "the shocking coal boom." No other country produces more brown coal than Germany, he added. "The coal boom now endangers Germany's credibility on climate protection and the energy revolution," said Neubauer. The Social Democrats need to adopt a more critical stance on this issue, he added. more

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