Earlier this month, during a testy public exchange at a NATO summit, Donald Trump accused Germany of being “controlled” by Russia because of its dependence on Russian gas – a dependency Trump said was 70%.
In fact, Germany only gets 34% of its natural gas from Russia, roughly equal to the amount it gets from Norway and from the Netherlands. In total, natural gas accounts for just 23% of Germany’s primary energy use – and only 13.5% of the electricity generated at power plants.
Historically, Germany has been much more reliant on domestic coal and nuclear to meet its energy needs. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is phasing out coal and nuclear, leaving many to conclude that natural gas is going to have to make up that difference. Given that Germany has almost no gas fields of its own and must import 92% of its gas, that has led many to expect the country is going to become more reliant on Russian gas.
Indeed, last week’s latest figures released by Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom seemed to back up this expectation, showing a 12.2% increase in German imports of Russian gas in the first half of 2018 compared to the previous year.
But the first half of this year also saw a much more significant energy development. As of July 1, renewable energy has surpassed coal to become Germany’s largest single power source in the country’s gross power production mix.
These latest figures from the energy industry’s biggest lobby group, the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, shows that renewable energy – mostly wind and solar – generated 118 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in the first half of the year, compared to 114 kWh generated from lignite and hard coal.
That means renewables provided 36.3% of Germany’s power so far this year, while coal provided 35.1%. Gas provided 12.3%, just above nuclear at 11.3%.
It’s good news for fans of renewable energy, who hope that Germany’s Energiewende, the ambitious renewable energy policy the country has had in place since 2010, is getting the power source to a level where it can easily replace disappearing coal and nuclear.
But there are important caveats. The first, and most obvious, is that these figures are only for power generation – not for all of Germany’s energy use, which also includes heating and transport. Natural gas provides around 23% of that total, while renewables provide only around 13%.
The other caveat is that the encouraging new figures for renewables in power generation are a reflection of ambitious action taken several years ago. In recent years, renewables expansion has been lagging. For instance, decisions to expand and upgrade Germany’s energy infrastructure in order to accommodate new renewable sources has been stalled at political level.
Germany’s energy mix is far more complex than Trump’s rant at the NATO summit would suggest. But there is reason to be concerned that a lack of recent action on the renewables front will mean that the disappearing coal and nuclear power will be replaced with Russian gas rather than renewables – particularly if the controversial Nord Stream II pipeline is built.
Perhaps these latest figures will convince the new German government that it’s wise to make significant investments now in upgrading the country’s power infrastructure in a way that will get the country to energy independence through renewables, rather than building new pipelines to Russia.
Date: Jul 24, 2018