EXPRESS #1 - June 19, 2018
More trouble for the Energiewende as utilities call for rapid coal phase out and citizens oppose wind farms
While German utilities urge the government to speed up policymaking on the Energiewende, public resistance to Germany’s ambitious energy shift seems to be growing stronger. The costs of stabilizing the grid last year reached record levels.
Clean Energy Wire reports that according to utility association BDEW, “Germany’s policymakers have not kept pace with the energy industry’s rapid transformation caused by the Energiewende, and must catch up urgently. The utilities also say that Germany needs a coal exit that is fast enough to reach its climate target for 2030.”
“We are at a standstill, and we cannot afford this,” the executive director of the utility association BDEW, Stefan Kapferer, told the group’s annual conference in Berlin. “The industry has already entered the path of reducing its coal use, this process is well underway.”
BDEW head Kapferer urged energy minister Peter Altmaier, who was scheduled to address the conference later on 13 June, “to speed up the renewables build-up, as well as the extension of the power grid, rather than continuing with the current spat between the two coalition parties about which of the two needs to go first. The industry also needs a more secure future for the combined heat and power plants, as well as rules on storage that would allow this key element of the Energiewende to play a more prominent role.”
Energy minister Peter Altmaier mostly reiterated known government positions in his speech at the conference. “The country had to step up the extension of power grids in order to speed up the roll-out of renewables as envisioned in the government coalition treaty, Altmaier said. Cabinet should pass a law to speed up grid extension after the summer recess.”
“The government stands by the 2030 climate target,” he said. “We haven’t given up on the 2020 target,” he also said. “But there is a gap of 8 percentage points,” he said referring to the government’s latest climate protection report. “Anyone who looks into this seriously knows that you cannot close such a gap with the push of a button.”
Germany’s new coalition government has been under pressure since its decision to postpone the long-standing 2020 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels. The coalition has also faced criticism for the delays in establishing a commission tasked with charting a path toward the country’s coal exit, and has further irked environmentalists by dragging its heels on more ambitious climate and renewable targets for the European Union.
Perhaps a bit paradoxically, Kapferer “reiterated the industry’s long held view that the country was heading into difficulties in terms of supply security in the 2020s, once the nuclear phaseout is completed and the coal exit gets under way. In his opinion, Germany should not just rely on backup capacity from other European countries, as many of its neighbours are also about to shut down their nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Kapferer said Germany would need new gas-fired power plants to provide backup to the fluctuating renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. The discussion about fixes, which could include a capacity market for back-up power plants, needed to start early enough, he said.”
Energy minister Altmaier defended the government’s decision to bet on a so-called energy only market without payments for power plants on stand-by. “Any debate about supply security must not lead to the introduction of a capacity market through the backdoor, he said. The government’s goal to cut emissions by 55 percent by 2030 meant that about half of Germany’s coal-fired generation capacity had to shut down by that date.”
Altmaier acknowledged that the phase-out path to be determined by the coal commission would have to take the shut-down of the final nuclear power plant in 2022 into account. “We will need a pause for thought to see what this does to grid stability,” he said.
The head of the German Association of Local Utilities (VKU), Katherina Reiche, seconded Kapferer’s view on supply security, urging the government to move cautiously with the coal exit. “I can only warn against hoping that we will find a kilowatt hour of electricity somewhere in Europe in the case of a bottleneck.”
An industrialised country like Germany must be able to generate enough electricity for itself at every minute of the day, even in an extreme situation,” she told the business daily Handelsblatt. The guiding principle in determining the order in which coal power should be phased out must be the carbon intensity of the affected plants, which would rank combined heat and power plants further down in the list.
This was due to lagging grid expansion, a Europe-wide cold spell at the beginning of 2017 and a record feed-in of wind power, among other things. “Only the grid expansion can lower the high costs for grid and system security in the long run,” said BNetzA president Jochen Homann in a press release. Costs include re-dispatch measures, the use of power plants in the reserve, and power feed-in management.
The Zeit Online newspaper noted recently that public resistance to onshore wind parks in Germany is increasing. According to the Berlin-based anti-wind power grassroots association Vernunftkraft, there are now some 900 local groups active opposing wind power projects. The Zeit says that the figure is more likely to be around 500 according to experts.
What is certain is that the number of permits for wind power parks is decreasing sharply. In 2016 more than 3100 licenses were granted, last year just 450. An important reason for the decline is the switch from feed-in tariffs to auctions.