Author: Henner Weithoener

About Henner Weithoener

Henner Weithoener, Climate News Network’s Berlin correspondent, is a freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy.

India’s solar power set to outshine coal

India solar power
India solar power

Solar power in India will be cheaper than imported coal by 2020, but replacing the subcontinent’s fossil fuels with renewable energy is an enormous task.

BERLIN, 21 October, 2016 – India wants to provide its entire population with electricity and lift millions out of poverty, but in order to prevent the world overheating it also needs to switch away from fossil fuels.

Although India is blessed with ample sunshine and wind, its main source of energy is coal, followed by oil and gas. Together, they provide around 90% of the total energy demand of the subcontinent – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – with coal enjoying the highest share, at more than 70%.

The 2016 BP Energy Outlook report assumes that India will depend increasingly on imports for its energy. Domestic production can be increased, but the increase will be overtaken by growing demand. BP says that by 2035 gas imports to India will rise by 573%, oil imports by 169% and coal by 85%.

Renewable thinking

But that assumes that renewables will not take off in India. Others think differently. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reckons that by as early as 2020 large photovoltaic ground-mounted systems will be more economical in India than plants powered by imported coal.

Its conclusion is based on what is called the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) – a way of comparing different methods of electricity generation, using the average total cost of building and operating a power plant, divided by its total lifetime energy output.

“Especially for the 400 million Indians who have no access to electricity, solar power would mean access to clean and affordable energy”

Bloomberg says the LCOE for photovoltaic systems is about US$0.10 per solar kilowatt hour, compared with a current levelised cost for coal in Asia of about US$0.07.

Even if coal prices remain steady, which it thinks is unlikely, it believes that the continuing fall in PV prices means that solar energy will be more economic than coal by 2020. Only 10 years ago, solar generation was more than three times the price of coal.

One of the pioneering solar manufacturers, Tata Power Solar, estimates that the potential for solar in India lies at about 130 gigawatts by 2025.

“This would generate more than 675,000 jobs in the Indian solar industry,” says Tata Power Solar’s former CEO, Ajay Goel, now president of solar and chief of new businesses at New Delhi-based ReNew Power . “Especially for the 400 million Indians who have no access to electricity, solar power would mean access to clean and affordable energy.”

Solar benefits

After years of standstill on the subcontinent, India seems to be discovering the benefits of solar energy. So the government has recently updated its National Solar Mission target: now it wants to achieve 175GW of renewable power, which includes 100GW of solar power by 2022.

To meet these goals, India will need to increase the pace of its renewable energy capacity addition sevenfold, from an average 3GW per year to at least 20GW per year. Since 2007, the country has averaged only 15GW of new power capacity each year from all technologies.

Bloomberg believes that these targets are difficult to achieve in the given timeframe and will require a serious overhaul of the power infrastructure, as well as new incentives to drive investment.

The International Energy Authority (IEA) agrees. In a special report on India, the agency says that due to population growth the country will need to provide an extra 600 million people with electricity by 2040.

Uncertainty over the pace at which new large dams or nuclear plants can be built means there is a strong reliance on solar and wind power. The IEA says India has high potential and equally high ambition in these areas to deliver on the pledge to build up a 40% share of non-fossil-fuel capacity in the power sector by 2030.

It believes that 340GW of new wind and solar projects, as well as manufacturing and installation capabilities, can be created by 2040 with strong policy support and declining costs.

According to this scenario, the IEA says, the share of coal in the power generation mix falls from 75% to less than 60%, but coal-fired power still meets half of the increase in power generation.

But both the IEA and Bloomberg warn that inadequate transmission infrastructure, open access issues, the poor financial health of distribution companies and a difficult law-making process within the power sector will be the major issues blocking a flow of investment and the proper growth of renewable energy.

So it remains to be seen whether India will put its ambitious plans into practice. The solar potential is obviously there, and at a competitive price. Now people have to start harvesting energy from the sun. – Climate News Network

Solar power in India will be cheaper than imported coal by 2020, but replacing the subcontinent’s fossil fuels with renewable energy is an enormous task.

BERLIN, 21 October, 2016 – India wants to provide its entire population with electricity and lift millions out of poverty, but in order to prevent the world overheating it also needs to switch away from fossil fuels.

Although India is blessed with ample sunshine and wind, its main source of energy is coal, followed by oil and gas. Together, they provide around 90% of the total energy demand of the subcontinent – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – with coal enjoying the highest share, at more than 70%.

The 2016 BP Energy Outlook report assumes that India will depend increasingly on imports for its energy. Domestic production can be increased, but the increase will be overtaken by growing demand. BP says that by 2035 gas imports to India will rise by 573%, oil imports by 169% and coal by 85%.

Renewable thinking

But that assumes that renewables will not take off in India. Others think differently. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reckons that by as early as 2020 large photovoltaic ground-mounted systems will be more economical in India than plants powered by imported coal.

Its conclusion is based on what is called the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) – a way of comparing different methods of electricity generation, using the average total cost of building and operating a power plant, divided by its total lifetime energy output.

“Especially for the 400 million Indians who have no access to electricity, solar power would mean access to clean and affordable energy”

Bloomberg says the LCOE for photovoltaic systems is about US$0.10 per solar kilowatt hour, compared with a current levelised cost for coal in Asia of about US$0.07.

Even if coal prices remain steady, which it thinks is unlikely, it believes that the continuing fall in PV prices means that solar energy will be more economic than coal by 2020. Only 10 years ago, solar generation was more than three times the price of coal.

One of the pioneering solar manufacturers, Tata Power Solar, estimates that the potential for solar in India lies at about 130 gigawatts by 2025.

“This would generate more than 675,000 jobs in the Indian solar industry,” says Tata Power Solar’s former CEO, Ajay Goel, now president of solar and chief of new businesses at New Delhi-based ReNew Power . “Especially for the 400 million Indians who have no access to electricity, solar power would mean access to clean and affordable energy.”

Solar benefits

After years of standstill on the subcontinent, India seems to be discovering the benefits of solar energy. So the government has recently updated its National Solar Mission target: now it wants to achieve 175GW of renewable power, which includes 100GW of solar power by 2022.

To meet these goals, India will need to increase the pace of its renewable energy capacity addition sevenfold, from an average 3GW per year to at least 20GW per year. Since 2007, the country has averaged only 15GW of new power capacity each year from all technologies.

Bloomberg believes that these targets are difficult to achieve in the given timeframe and will require a serious overhaul of the power infrastructure, as well as new incentives to drive investment.

The International Energy Authority (IEA) agrees. In a special report on India, the agency says that due to population growth the country will need to provide an extra 600 million people with electricity by 2040.

Uncertainty over the pace at which new large dams or nuclear plants can be built means there is a strong reliance on solar and wind power. The IEA says India has high potential and equally high ambition in these areas to deliver on the pledge to build up a 40% share of non-fossil-fuel capacity in the power sector by 2030.

It believes that 340GW of new wind and solar projects, as well as manufacturing and installation capabilities, can be created by 2040 with strong policy support and declining costs.

According to this scenario, the IEA says, the share of coal in the power generation mix falls from 75% to less than 60%, but coal-fired power still meets half of the increase in power generation.

But both the IEA and Bloomberg warn that inadequate transmission infrastructure, open access issues, the poor financial health of distribution companies and a difficult law-making process within the power sector will be the major issues blocking a flow of investment and the proper growth of renewable energy.

So it remains to be seen whether India will put its ambitious plans into practice. The solar potential is obviously there, and at a competitive price. Now people have to start harvesting energy from the sun. – Climate News Network

Carbon levy mooted for big fossil fuel firms

COP21: Fewer than a hundred fossil fuel companies are responsible for 63% of human-caused CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. The UN’s Climate Summit is being urged to make them pay.

PARIS, 10 December, 2015 Big Oil (and its gas and coal counterparts) could before long face paying for the carbon contained in the fuel they sell. Two groups working for a cleaner future want to see a levy imposed on fossil fuel exploitation.

A 2013 report said almost two-thirds of the main greenhouse gas going into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, came from the fuels produced by a mere 90 companies. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit here is in the final hours of its attempt to broker a just and effective global treaty on reducing those emissions and limiting their impacts: extreme weather, drought, flooding, sea level rise,  land and forest degradation, desertification.

Pressure is growing to work out if and how these big fossil fuel producers can be held financially responsible for the damage their products are causing.

The 90 fossil fuel companies responsible for 63% of CO2 emissions from human activities are a roll call of household names, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, BP, Gazprom and Shell.

Now the Climate Justice Programme and the Heinrich Boell Foundation are urging that producers should pay a carbon levy on all fossil fuel extraction and mining, with the proceeds going to help pay poorer countries for adapting to climate change and meeting the costs of its impacts.

Phase-out needed

The levy would be applied to both the exploitation and the burning of fossil fuels. If a company was involved in both, it would have to pay the levy only once.

It would charge the carbon majors US$2 for every tonne of carbon dioxide their products  release into the atmosphere. In 2014 this would have meant $50 billion coming from the companies.

The levy is based on a calculation of how much CO2 is released on average from burning a barrel of crude oil (or a tonne of coal, or a cubic metre of natural gas). The CO2 footprint of the drilling or mining itself would not be taken into account.

“We propose that a global fossil fuel extraction levy be established and paid into the international Loss and Damage Mechanism. This funding would be used to assist the poorest and most vulnerable communities suffering the worst impacts of climate change”, said Julie-Anne Richards of the Climate Justice Programme. “This levy needs to be part of a general phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Precedents

The UNFCCC’s Loss and Damage Mechanism emerged from the 2013 climate summit in Warsaw. It is a way to address those climate impacts to which it is impossible to adapt,  including extreme events.

“Climate finance is already inadequate – with a huge gap between what is needed and what is being offered. A new source of finance from a levy on Big Oil, Coal and Gas could unlock some of the objections by rich countries to including loss and damage in a new Paris agreement”, said Lili Fuhr from the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

The Climate Justice Programme is convinced that existing international law, in particular the polluter pays principle, the no harm rule and the right to compensation support such a system.

“Our proposal draws from precedents such as the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds, the oil spill compensation regime which collects levies from companies that ship oil internationally which are used as compensation after oil spills”, said Julie-Anne Richards.

The fossil fuel industry has so far given no reaction to the levy proposal. –  Climate News Network

Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. He is also a tutor for advanced journalism training, focusing on environmental reporting and online journalism, especially in developing countries.

LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/

Twitter: @weithoener

COP21: Fewer than a hundred fossil fuel companies are responsible for 63% of human-caused CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. The UN’s Climate Summit is being urged to make them pay.

PARIS, 10 December, 2015 Big Oil (and its gas and coal counterparts) could before long face paying for the carbon contained in the fuel they sell. Two groups working for a cleaner future want to see a levy imposed on fossil fuel exploitation.

A 2013 report said almost two-thirds of the main greenhouse gas going into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, came from the fuels produced by a mere 90 companies. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit here is in the final hours of its attempt to broker a just and effective global treaty on reducing those emissions and limiting their impacts: extreme weather, drought, flooding, sea level rise,  land and forest degradation, desertification.

Pressure is growing to work out if and how these big fossil fuel producers can be held financially responsible for the damage their products are causing.

The 90 fossil fuel companies responsible for 63% of CO2 emissions from human activities are a roll call of household names, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, BP, Gazprom and Shell.

Now the Climate Justice Programme and the Heinrich Boell Foundation are urging that producers should pay a carbon levy on all fossil fuel extraction and mining, with the proceeds going to help pay poorer countries for adapting to climate change and meeting the costs of its impacts.

Phase-out needed

The levy would be applied to both the exploitation and the burning of fossil fuels. If a company was involved in both, it would have to pay the levy only once.

It would charge the carbon majors US$2 for every tonne of carbon dioxide their products  release into the atmosphere. In 2014 this would have meant $50 billion coming from the companies.

The levy is based on a calculation of how much CO2 is released on average from burning a barrel of crude oil (or a tonne of coal, or a cubic metre of natural gas). The CO2 footprint of the drilling or mining itself would not be taken into account.

“We propose that a global fossil fuel extraction levy be established and paid into the international Loss and Damage Mechanism. This funding would be used to assist the poorest and most vulnerable communities suffering the worst impacts of climate change”, said Julie-Anne Richards of the Climate Justice Programme. “This levy needs to be part of a general phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Precedents

The UNFCCC’s Loss and Damage Mechanism emerged from the 2013 climate summit in Warsaw. It is a way to address those climate impacts to which it is impossible to adapt,  including extreme events.

“Climate finance is already inadequate – with a huge gap between what is needed and what is being offered. A new source of finance from a levy on Big Oil, Coal and Gas could unlock some of the objections by rich countries to including loss and damage in a new Paris agreement”, said Lili Fuhr from the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

The Climate Justice Programme is convinced that existing international law, in particular the polluter pays principle, the no harm rule and the right to compensation support such a system.

“Our proposal draws from precedents such as the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds, the oil spill compensation regime which collects levies from companies that ship oil internationally which are used as compensation after oil spills”, said Julie-Anne Richards.

The fossil fuel industry has so far given no reaction to the levy proposal. –  Climate News Network

Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. He is also a tutor for advanced journalism training, focusing on environmental reporting and online journalism, especially in developing countries.

LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/

Twitter: @weithoener

Climate talks are stuck in the slow lane to Paris

Lack of progress at the close of “unbearably tardy” negotiations in Bonn undermines hopes of a meaningful deal being agreed at this year’s crucial UN climate summit. BERLIN, 7 September, 2015 – The latest round of climate talks in the German city of Bonn have ended with a failure to deliver common grounds for the negotiations at the UN climate summit in Paris at the end of this year. The Paris talks, involving all UN member states, are meant to deliver a draft that could lead to a new world climate treaty to replace the expired Kyoto Protocol. But experts now fear that there will not be enough time left to see a major breakthrough. Jan Kowalzig, climate change policy adviser at Oxfam, described last week’s negotiations in Bonn as “unbearably tardy”. He said: “If the negotiators keep up that slow pace, the ministers at the UN summit will get an unfinished paper that they will have to resolve with no time for reflection. The outcome will then most likely be an extremely weak new treaty that will not save the world from climate change.”

Unresolved obstacles

In Bonn, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) − the body set up by the UN Climate Change Convention to devise a successor to the Kyoto Protocol − was asked to produce a paper for the Paris summit. After a week of negotiations, they ended up with just a bunch of ideas and lots of unresolved obstacles. “We cannot go on working on that basis,” says Sarah Blau, who led the EU’s delegation in Bonn. “We would love to start working on a new treaty, but all options have to be on the table. We have not reached that stage yet.” Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. So far, only around US$10 billion is in that pot. So who will contribute how much? And by when? The diplomats in Bonn were unable to say.

“It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges”

On the emissions cuts, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the existing pledges are far from enough to keep the world below the 2°C level − the internationally-agreed safety limit to try to prevent runaway climate change. So the developing nations are demanding regular updates and adjustments to the agreed emissions cuts every five years, to check whether the world is still on the right track. The EU disapproves of this, saying updates every 10 years are sufficient. As the EU wants to achieve its planned 40% CO2 reduction by 2020, it would not take its next step until 2030. “We feel confident that our 40% CO2 target by 2020 is one of the most ambitious goals, and we do not see any need for more regular adjustments,” Blau says.

Long-term target

Greenpeace says the EU’s 10-year strategy could render the 2°C limit meaningless. Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace climate policy unit, says: “It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges. We do need more regular adjustments that respect the latest climate science outcomes and the development of renewable energies.” The only progress in Bonn was the wider acceptance among UN member states of the need to write a long-term target into a new global climate treaty. But it remains unresolved whether that should be a zero CO2 emissions target, a 100% renewable energy target, or just a repetition of the existing 2°C limit − which many climate scientists think should in any case be reduced to 1.5°C. At the end of September, heads of state are due to meet in New York at the UN general assembly. In mid-October, there will be another preparatory meeting in Bonn, hoping finally to produce an agreed paper for Paris. “We are definitely running out of time,” warns Christoph Bals, policy director at the NGO Germanwatch. “What we truly need now are clear signals from the ministers and heads of state ahead of Paris. Otherwise, the next UN climate summit is most likely to fail.” – Climate News Network

  • Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/; Twitter: @weithoener

Lack of progress at the close of “unbearably tardy” negotiations in Bonn undermines hopes of a meaningful deal being agreed at this year’s crucial UN climate summit. BERLIN, 7 September, 2015 – The latest round of climate talks in the German city of Bonn have ended with a failure to deliver common grounds for the negotiations at the UN climate summit in Paris at the end of this year. The Paris talks, involving all UN member states, are meant to deliver a draft that could lead to a new world climate treaty to replace the expired Kyoto Protocol. But experts now fear that there will not be enough time left to see a major breakthrough. Jan Kowalzig, climate change policy adviser at Oxfam, described last week’s negotiations in Bonn as “unbearably tardy”. He said: “If the negotiators keep up that slow pace, the ministers at the UN summit will get an unfinished paper that they will have to resolve with no time for reflection. The outcome will then most likely be an extremely weak new treaty that will not save the world from climate change.”

Unresolved obstacles

In Bonn, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) − the body set up by the UN Climate Change Convention to devise a successor to the Kyoto Protocol − was asked to produce a paper for the Paris summit. After a week of negotiations, they ended up with just a bunch of ideas and lots of unresolved obstacles. “We cannot go on working on that basis,” says Sarah Blau, who led the EU’s delegation in Bonn. “We would love to start working on a new treaty, but all options have to be on the table. We have not reached that stage yet.” Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. So far, only around US$10 billion is in that pot. So who will contribute how much? And by when? The diplomats in Bonn were unable to say.

“It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges”

On the emissions cuts, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the existing pledges are far from enough to keep the world below the 2°C level − the internationally-agreed safety limit to try to prevent runaway climate change. So the developing nations are demanding regular updates and adjustments to the agreed emissions cuts every five years, to check whether the world is still on the right track. The EU disapproves of this, saying updates every 10 years are sufficient. As the EU wants to achieve its planned 40% CO2 reduction by 2020, it would not take its next step until 2030. “We feel confident that our 40% CO2 target by 2020 is one of the most ambitious goals, and we do not see any need for more regular adjustments,” Blau says.

Long-term target

Greenpeace says the EU’s 10-year strategy could render the 2°C limit meaningless. Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace climate policy unit, says: “It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges. We do need more regular adjustments that respect the latest climate science outcomes and the development of renewable energies.” The only progress in Bonn was the wider acceptance among UN member states of the need to write a long-term target into a new global climate treaty. But it remains unresolved whether that should be a zero CO2 emissions target, a 100% renewable energy target, or just a repetition of the existing 2°C limit − which many climate scientists think should in any case be reduced to 1.5°C. At the end of September, heads of state are due to meet in New York at the UN general assembly. In mid-October, there will be another preparatory meeting in Bonn, hoping finally to produce an agreed paper for Paris. “We are definitely running out of time,” warns Christoph Bals, policy director at the NGO Germanwatch. “What we truly need now are clear signals from the ministers and heads of state ahead of Paris. Otherwise, the next UN climate summit is most likely to fail.” – Climate News Network

  • Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/; Twitter: @weithoener

Coal casts a cloud over Germany’s energy revolution

Germany cut emissions and boosted renewables last year, but critics say CO2 reduction targets can’t be met unless it closes coal-burning power stations. BERLIN, 20 January 2015 − The energy market in Germany saw a spectacular change last year as renewable energy became the major source of its electricity supply − leaving lignite, coal and nuclear behind. But researchers calculate that, allowing for the mild winter of 2014, the cut in fossil fuel use in energy production meant CO2 emissions fell by only 1%. Wind, solar, hydropower and biomass reached a new record, producing 27.3% (157bn kilowatt hours) of Germany’s total electricity and overtaking lignite (156bn kWh), according to AGEB, a joint association of energy companies and research institutes. This was an achievement that many energy experts could not have imagined just a few years ago.

Lowest level

Beyond that, Germany’s primary energy consumption – which includes the energy used in power generation, heating and transport − fell to its lowest level since reunification with East Germany in 1990, AGEB report. It shrank by 4.8% compared with 2013. Estimates by AGEB indicate that Germany’s CO2 emissions will have fallen in 2014 by around 5% compared with 2013, as consumption of all fossil fuels fell and the contribution from renewables rose. Half the CO2 savings came from power generation. Germany’s use of hard coal − sometimes called black coal, which emits much less CO2 than brown coal, as lignite is known − in electricity generation was 7.9% lower than in 2013, and lignite 2.3%. The share of fossil fuels in the overall energy mix fell from 81.9% in 2013 to 80.8%.

“My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal”

At first sight, that looks like a big success story. But it comes after several years of rising emissions that have cast doubt on the “Energiewende” − the ambitious German energy transition plan for a simultaneous phase-out of nuclear power and a move to a carbon-free economy. While all of Germany’s remaining nine nuclear power plants must by law be shut down no later than the end of 2022, there is no such legally-binding phase-out for the coal industry. So no one can tell how long Germany will go on burning the worst climate change contributors, lignite and hard coal.

Dirty 30

In July 2014, a group of NGOs published a study on the EU’s 30 worst CO2-emitting thermal power plants. German power stations featured six times among the 10 dirtiest. CROP-WWF-dirty-30-2014 Never heard of Neurath, Niederausssem, Jänschwalde, Boxberg, Weisweiler and Lippendorf? These are the sites of Germany’s lignite-powered stations, which together emit more than 140 megatonnes of CO2 annually − making Germany Europe’s worst coal polluter, followed by Poland and the UK. And international banks, including Germany’s biggest investment bank, keep on financing coal. A study by BankTrack shows that 92 commercial banks financed the coal industry in 2013 to the tune of at least €66bn – a new record. The top investor was the US bank JP Morgan Chase. Deutsche Bank was tenth. That level of investment puts into perspective the US $10bn that is now in the UN’s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations fight climate change. Germany has one of the most ambitious climate targets worldwide: by 2020, its CO2 emissions are due to be 40% below their 1990 level. But how can it achieve this?

Climate goals

The latest Climate Protection Action Plan, adopted by the German Cabinet on 3 December last year, says that 22 million tonnes of CO2 will be saved “by further measures, especially in the power sector”. Does that mean less power from coal? In any case, it will not put Germany back on track, as nearly 80 million tonnes of CO2 must be saved to reach the country’s 2020 climate goals. The Greens pointed out that a coal-fired power plant such as Jänschwalde alone produces more than 22 million tonnes of CO2 − and Jänschwalde is not even the biggest German polluter. So, right now, the Energiewende seems a story both of success and of failure. Mojib Latif, the German meteorologist and oceanographer who co-authored the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, says: “The only way of countering the rise in CO2 is to expand renewables. The technology is there − it just has to be used. “My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal. Otherwise we have no chance of achieving our climate targets.” − Climate News Network

  • Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. He is also a tutor for advanced journalism training, focusing on environmental reporting and online journalism, especially in developing countries. LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/; Twitter: @weithoener

Germany cut emissions and boosted renewables last year, but critics say CO2 reduction targets can’t be met unless it closes coal-burning power stations. BERLIN, 20 January 2015 − The energy market in Germany saw a spectacular change last year as renewable energy became the major source of its electricity supply − leaving lignite, coal and nuclear behind. But researchers calculate that, allowing for the mild winter of 2014, the cut in fossil fuel use in energy production meant CO2 emissions fell by only 1%. Wind, solar, hydropower and biomass reached a new record, producing 27.3% (157bn kilowatt hours) of Germany’s total electricity and overtaking lignite (156bn kWh), according to AGEB, a joint association of energy companies and research institutes. This was an achievement that many energy experts could not have imagined just a few years ago.

Lowest level

Beyond that, Germany’s primary energy consumption – which includes the energy used in power generation, heating and transport − fell to its lowest level since reunification with East Germany in 1990, AGEB report. It shrank by 4.8% compared with 2013. Estimates by AGEB indicate that Germany’s CO2 emissions will have fallen in 2014 by around 5% compared with 2013, as consumption of all fossil fuels fell and the contribution from renewables rose. Half the CO2 savings came from power generation. Germany’s use of hard coal − sometimes called black coal, which emits much less CO2 than brown coal, as lignite is known − in electricity generation was 7.9% lower than in 2013, and lignite 2.3%. The share of fossil fuels in the overall energy mix fell from 81.9% in 2013 to 80.8%.

“My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal”

At first sight, that looks like a big success story. But it comes after several years of rising emissions that have cast doubt on the “Energiewende” − the ambitious German energy transition plan for a simultaneous phase-out of nuclear power and a move to a carbon-free economy. While all of Germany’s remaining nine nuclear power plants must by law be shut down no later than the end of 2022, there is no such legally-binding phase-out for the coal industry. So no one can tell how long Germany will go on burning the worst climate change contributors, lignite and hard coal.

Dirty 30

In July 2014, a group of NGOs published a study on the EU’s 30 worst CO2-emitting thermal power plants. German power stations featured six times among the 10 dirtiest. CROP-WWF-dirty-30-2014 Never heard of Neurath, Niederausssem, Jänschwalde, Boxberg, Weisweiler and Lippendorf? These are the sites of Germany’s lignite-powered stations, which together emit more than 140 megatonnes of CO2 annually − making Germany Europe’s worst coal polluter, followed by Poland and the UK. And international banks, including Germany’s biggest investment bank, keep on financing coal. A study by BankTrack shows that 92 commercial banks financed the coal industry in 2013 to the tune of at least €66bn – a new record. The top investor was the US bank JP Morgan Chase. Deutsche Bank was tenth. That level of investment puts into perspective the US $10bn that is now in the UN’s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations fight climate change. Germany has one of the most ambitious climate targets worldwide: by 2020, its CO2 emissions are due to be 40% below their 1990 level. But how can it achieve this?

Climate goals

The latest Climate Protection Action Plan, adopted by the German Cabinet on 3 December last year, says that 22 million tonnes of CO2 will be saved “by further measures, especially in the power sector”. Does that mean less power from coal? In any case, it will not put Germany back on track, as nearly 80 million tonnes of CO2 must be saved to reach the country’s 2020 climate goals. The Greens pointed out that a coal-fired power plant such as Jänschwalde alone produces more than 22 million tonnes of CO2 − and Jänschwalde is not even the biggest German polluter. So, right now, the Energiewende seems a story both of success and of failure. Mojib Latif, the German meteorologist and oceanographer who co-authored the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, says: “The only way of countering the rise in CO2 is to expand renewables. The technology is there − it just has to be used. “My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal. Otherwise we have no chance of achieving our climate targets.” − Climate News Network

  • Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. He is also a tutor for advanced journalism training, focusing on environmental reporting and online journalism, especially in developing countries. LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/; Twitter: @weithoener