lignite power generation
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Greenhouse gas emissions in Germany fell by more than 50 million tonnes in 2019; emissions now stand at 35% below their 1990 levels, and Germany’s goal of achieving a 40% emissions reduction by 2020 is thus within reach, according to tink tank Agora Energiewende.

The power sector is solely responsible for this decline in emissions, as significantly less electricity was generated using hard coal and lignite, while generation from renewables rose to cover 42.6% of electricity demand, a nearly 5% point increase over 2018.

Notably, last year marked the first year in which generation from wind, hydro, solar and biogas plants exceeded the total generation from coal and nuclear.

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Higher certificate prices in the EU emissions trading system have been the major driver of lower power sector emissions. In combination with increased electricity production from renewables and lower electricity consumption, higher emissions prices led fossil-fuel power plants to significantly reduce their electricity production during many hours in 2019, as their generation was not price competitive.

Power generation by hard coal-fired power plants dropped by 31%, and that of lignite-fired power plants by 22%. Lower coal-based generation also benefited natural gas-fired power plants, which require fewer emission certificates to generate power; natural gas-based generation increased by 11%.

In sharp contrast to the progress made in the power sector, emissions in the building and transport sectors increased in 2019.

The expansion of PV capacity and beneficial climatic conditions for wind generation were the primary factors encouraging a higher share of generation from renewables. “Nevertheless, the energy transition is entering the 2020s with a heavy burden,” says Dr. Patrick Graichen, Director of Agora Energiewende.

“The expansion of wind energy has collapsed by more than 80% over the last two years and has thus nearly ground to a halt. Furthermore, as bids from industry to construct wind farms did not fully exploit the capacity budget in 2019, we will not see robust expansion figures for wind energy in the coming years either. It is now up to the federal government to make policy adjustments so that wind power capacity continues to expand. Wind is the workhorse of the energy transition, and without wind power, we cannot succeed in phasing out coal or meeting our climate protection targets.”

The annual review also shows that the cost of supporting renewable energy will soon fall. In 2019, Germany and Luxembourg were the European countries with the lowest wholesale electricity prices. Furthermore, upward and downward price fluctuations on the wholesale market (including negative electricity prices) were less frequent in 2019, and there were no supply shortages. “This is a sign that security of supply in Germany was consistently high last year,” says Graichen.

Total demand in 2019 fell to 569TWh, the lowest level registered in the past 20 years – even lower than that of 2009, during the economic crisis. Lower demand is being driven by slower economic growth, lower consumption by the energy-intensive basic materials industry, and lower on-site consumption by conventional power plants, which are being increasingly supplanted by renewable energy systems.

As in 2019, the experts expect a 1GW increase in onshore wind energy and a 4GW increase in solar. Offshore wind capacity is growing faster thanks to the commissioning of new wind farms in the second half of 2019 and the first half of 2020. The 2020 trends that will be seen for lignite, hard coal and natural gas – thus for carbon emissions – remain uncertain, as they depend crucially on coal, gas and CO2 prices, as well as on wind conditions.

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