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Where do the Germans get electricity in the energy crisis? – DW – 07.09.2022

Germany increased the production of electricity and significantly expanded its exports, primarily to France. At the same time, the extreme high cost of natural gas forced the German electric power industry to intensively use coal. Approximately half of electricity generation was provided by renewable energy sources (RES), with solar energy showing the largest growth. At the same time, the role of nuclear power plants continued to decline.

These are some of the key takeaways from a detailed report published on September 7th. reports of the German Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on electricity generation in the 1st half of 2022. This statistic includes all generating facilities supplying the German national power grid, but does not take into account plant-based power plants that exclusively supply the needs of the respective enterprises.

France stops nuclear power plant and buys electricity from Germany

The figures that characterize the growing role of Germany as an exporter of electricity can cause the greatest surprise. If the total volume of electricity production increased by a moderate 1.3% compared to the first half of 2021, then supplies to neighboring countries increased by 14.5%. At the same time, imports decreased by 9.1%. As a result, the foreign trade surplus in this sector reached 16.3 billion kilowatt-hours.

Most surprisingly, for the first time since German reunification in 1990, German energy companies exported more electricity to France than they imported from there. This is due to a very sharp, by 58.9%, reduction in supplies from a neighboring country, caused by acute crisis of French nuclear energy.

This year, more than half of the 56 French nuclear power plants had to be shut down due to various technical problems. In addition to cracks and corrosion, the extreme heat and ensuing drought has also become a problem, leading to shallowing and rising water temperatures in the rivers from which water is usually taken to cool reactors.

Golfech nuclear power plant in southwestern France
Golfech nuclear power plant in southwestern FrancePhoto: Jean Pierre Jost

The data from Destatis shows how strongly these factors affected the results of the first half of the year in Germany. Therefore, it can be assumed that in the current second half of the year the consequences of the crisis in the French electric power industry will be even more significant, because in July and August the problems of nuclear power plants associated with climatic phenomena have become significantly aggravated. And this, in turn, required an increase in German electricity exports.

Various German media believe that the increased transfer of German electricity to France in order to compensate for the downtime of its numerous nuclear power plants was not the main, but one of the reasons for the sharp rise in the cost of electricity in Germany.

Moreover, in the foreseeable future, the needs of the neighboring country are unlikely to decrease. In any case, on September 5, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed on mutual energy support during a video conference: Germany will continue to actively export electricity to the neighboring country, and in return will receive natural gas from French gas storage facilities and from LNG terminals.

A third of German electricity is now produced from coal

This gas under full cessation of supplies from Russia via Nord Stream will be needed in Germany for heating homes and in industry, but is unlikely to be widely used to generate electricity: in the 1st half of the year, according to Destatis, electricity generation at gas-fired power plants fell by 17.9% due to the extreme high cost of this fuel, and in the 2nd half of the year, this process will probably accelerate even more. Firstly, because gas prices remain prohibitive, and secondly, because a large-scale campaign to save gas is now being launched in Germany, especially in the electric power industry.

First of all, coal-fired thermal power plants are called upon to replace gas-fired power plants. Their output increased by 17.2% in the first half of the year. As a result, the share of coal in the German power industry rose to 31.4%. At the same time, the share of gas decreased to 11.7%. And by the end of August, according to the Federal Grid Agency (Bundesnetzagentur, BNetzA), this share had already fallen to 9.8%.

If we take into account that in the coming weeks a number of previously put into reserve and even mothballed coal-fired power plants will be temporarily connected to the national energy system, then their share in the 2nd half of the year may be significantly higher than the current third.

Solar energy in Germany has made a big leap forward

Here, however, much will depend on how much renewable energy can make a contribution to electricity production – wind and sun, as well as biomass and hydropower. Their total share in the German power industry in the first half of the year again approached half, amounting to 48.5%, which is 12.1% more than in the first six months of last year, which, however, were unusually poor in strong winds.

However, this year is also not distinguished in Germany by particularly windy weather, but so far it has been extremely, even abnormally sunny for Germany. Therefore, already in the 1st half of the year electricity generation with photovoltaics grew by 20.1%, and its share in the German power industry reached 11.4%.

Photo from a drone of a solar power plant in the north-east of Germany
Drone photo of a solar power plant in northeastern Germany that supplies electricity to a railway Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa/picture alliance

Thus, solar panels produced almost as many kilowatt-hours as gas-fired power plants. In the 2nd half of the year, solar energy will certainly come out ahead in terms of production volumes, if only because July and August were unusually, again absolutely anomalously cloudless in Germany. But now, as strong winds, storms and even hurricanes typical of autumn and winter approach, wind energy will also get a chance to increase its share of 25.7%.

Atom and biogas produce the same amount of energy in Germany

As for nuclear power plants, their share in the German power industry after the shutdown at the end of 2021 of three of the remaining six nuclear power units fell by 50.8% and now stands at only 6%.

So the readiness of the German government in the context of the energy crisis to postpone the complete phasing out of nuclear energy scheduled for the end of 2022 for several months can be of great symbolic importance and demonstrate that the country’s leadership is using all possible generating capacities in difficult conditions, but will not lead to a fundamental change in the situation. . Destatis data show that the remaining three nuclear power units generated only slightly more kilowatt-hours in the first half of the year than the German biogas plants.

See also:

Extreme heat – a threat to nuclear power plants?

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