Germany, a climate change mitigation example ?

Germany is often quoted as the definite example in climate change mitigation. However, as with all black and white fallacies, it is not really the case and the situation is not that simple.

Indeed, even if our neighboring country gets far more energy from renewables than we are, it relies much too heavily on coal, which is by far the most polluting energy solution.

As you will be able to read in this article, Germany is an example on some topics while on others it could benefit from other views and practices.

Indeed, to the French magazine Science et Vie in its issue dedicated to renewables (Mars 2008, le dossier noir des énergies vertes), Germany get 16,000 MW from wind (France 400 MW), from solar PV 800 MW (France 26) and from solar thermal 4,300 MW (France 550). As you can see, the discrepancy between both countries is quite important.

However, on the other side of the coin – which is much not talked about – coal still provides the majority of its electricity. And this won’t get any better as Germany plan to build 24 coal-fired plants in the near future and is willing to shut down all its nuclear plants. I personally wonder how they plan to cut by a factor four their greenhouse gases emissions.

Their current electricity mix is as follow : fossil fuels account for 61 percent, nuclear 25 percent and renewable energies take the remainder (11 percent). This is according to Wikipedia. The website gives similar figures : 61.6 percent for fossil fuels, 24.79 percent for nuclear and renewable energies account for roughly ten percent. (there lacks 4 percent… )

This brings the carbon dioxide emissions of an average German citizen to 10.46 tons, while his French counterpart would account for 6.71 tons. The European average lies at 7.96 tons… We as French thus emit 37 percent less carbon dioxide than our counterparts and neighbors.

This large difference is due to the fact that our electricity comes from 78 percent of nuclear and ten percent from hydro power, both virtually carbon dioxide free solutions.

Let us be fair, Germany has been doing and still does a lot of efforts on energy efficiency and recycling (among others). The improvements of energy efficiency has been continuous since the 1970s oil shocks. See these two examples I previously mentioned :

We as French dramatically lag behind on both aspects. The Grenelle de l’environnement might close the gap, at least I hope so.


Side note : Carbon dioxide emissions per kilo Watt per hour (kWh) :

  • Coal : around one kilogram ; oil around 750 grams ; natural gas around 500 grams ;
  • Solar PV around 60 grams ; wind energy around 15 ; hydro power, six little grams ;
  • nuclear : 20 grams.

An article will soon come to explain where the above-mentioned data comes from and the correlation between energy sources and carbon dioxide emissions. So, for this and much more, don’t hesitate to subscribe !

3 thoughts on “Germany, a climate change mitigation example ?”

  1. Good article. When seeing all the news about innovation, it’s important to keep the total numbers in perspective. On the other hand, Germany is just starting. What you see now is the merely the beginning I think.

    I love the way the German government is supporting distributed energy generation with a high feed-in tariff.
    And just now in the news:

    I think it’s safe to say that the German government “gets” energy innovation. The German government has green DNA. The fact that they’re closing nuclear plants, and having to build extra coal is I think a reflection of things the government doesn’t control, or want to change. On the one hand public perception of nuclear, and on the other hand the ever high electricity demand.

    But their might be nothing wrong in the French fully specializing in nuclear, and Germany in alternative technologies. If Germany and other countries turn around on nuclear, French companies will be their to help, while the Germans can help any country with their expertise in alternative technologies.

    This way, France and Germany can complement each other.

    I quite like the idea of France to become the “Nuclear Valley”. The French are in any case not afraid to use their technology in their own country. That gives some credibility. 🙂

    BTW: I’ve seen some heavy critique on the Lovins report on nuclear, but I still would love to see your opinion on it.

  2. Thanks Meryn, always nice to see one’s job appreciated 😀

    On the specialization part, I would like to state that the reactors we are building, the EPR, was created with German engineers that brought their expertise.

    This is why I don’t understand that much the disengagement of Germany in nuclear. But it might change – or not.

    On Lovin’s report: I thought I had answered you by mail yesterday; perhaps I didn’t answer everything.

    Basically, yes energy efficiency has to be pushed forward a lot. But, to me, like renewables it won’t be enough to enable us to act as fast and big as we need.

    This is where nuclear arrives to me.

  3. Pingback: Sustainable development and much more… » Al Gore’s plan for renewables :

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