Energiewende: Germany, UK, France and Spain

This week’s main post will be titled “The failure of Kyoto and the futility of European Energy Policy” and in this context I wanted to have a quick look at German energy consumption since Germany has come to symbolise the “global” effort to transition away from fossil fuels (and uranium) in order to save the planet from the pestilence of atmospheric CO2 and radiation poisoning. As usual I ended up with too many charts, and since the German story is an interesting one I thought I might as well look at the UK, France and Spain too. Energiewende is German for Energy Transition. The key observations:

Germany and the UK
Germany and the UK have a rather similar energy mix spread between coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and renewables but both heavily dependent upon fossil fuels (FF) (Figures 1 and 5). The absolute primary energy consumption in both these countries peaked in 1979, and following the oil price shock of that year energy consumption has been on a declining trend ever since. Population growth and economic growth have been absorbed by improving energy efficiency…. (15 more charts below the fold, click on charts to open a larger version in a separate browser window).

Figure 1 Germany has a diverse primary energy mix of coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewables. Energy consumption peaked in 1979. The decline in coal around 1990 likely reflects reunification of E and W. The growth in other renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and waste) has gone largely to fill the gap left by closure of nuclear power stations.

German renewables consumption (ex hydro) makes up 8.3% of total primary energy consumption whilst in the UK the figure is 4.2% (Figures 2, 4, 6 and 8). Germany achieved 4.2% in 2007 and in this regard the UK energiewende lags Germany’s by about 5 years (most recent data are for 2012).

Since 2001, the recent peak of German nuclear consumption (Figure 3), the bulk of German other renewables (ex hydro) production has gone to fill the gap left by the premature closure of nuclear power stations (Figures 1 to 4). German nuclear consumption has fallen by 16.3 million tonnes oil equivalent (mmtoe) whilst other renewables has grown by 22.4 mmtoe, hence 73% of other renewables has gone to plug the nuclear gap.

Figure 2 Germany primary energy consumption percentage distribution. Long term decline in coal and oil is substituted mainly by growth in natural gas and nuclear power up to 2006. Expansion of other renewables has gone by and large to fill the gap left by declining nuclear consumption since 2006.

Figure 3 Germany trends in primary energy consumption.

Figure 4 Germany trends in percentage primary energy consumption.

Figure 5 The UK, like Germany, has a diverse energy mix spread between coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewables. The development of other renewables in the UK lags Germany by about 5 years, which may or may not be a good thing depending upon one’s perspective.

Figure 6 The UK primary energy consumption percentage distribution.

Figure 7 UK trends in primary energy consumption. Long term decline in coal and oil has been substituted by growth in gas and nuclear. Thus far, growth in other renewables has done little more than compensate for the planned closure of the UK Magnox reactor fleet. Note how the 1984 miners strike was compensated by oil-fired power generation.

Figure 8 UK trends in percentage primary energy consumption.

France, which lacks any significant indigenous resources of coal, oil and gas has followed a very different route to Germany and the UK. The country’s 59 nuclear power stations provided 39.2% of all the primary energy consumed in 2012 with plenty electricity left over for export to neighbouring countries (Figure 9). France’s nuclear energiewende began in the 1970s and was completed by the end of the 1980s. France, within the Alps and Pyrenees, also has significant hydro electric production. Other renewables in France accounts for only 2.2% of total primary energy and the country is clearly not trying that hard to expand this. It doesn’t have to. Unlike neighbours Germany and the UK, French primary energy consumption expanded until 2004 on the back of nuclear power (Figure 9). Since then, energy consumption has sagged under the weight of high fossil fuel prices. It remains to be seen how France copes with replacing its current fleet of reactors, building new whilst decommissioning the old.

Figure 9 Primary energy consumption in France is dominated by oil and nuclear power and significant hydro electric power. Coal and natural gas are secondary in the energy mix. France is clearly not trying that hard to expand other renewables.

Figure 10 France primary energy consumption percentage distribution.

Figure 11 France trends in primary energy consumption. Oil consumption declined after the 1979 oil price shock and was replaced by nuclear in power generation. Coal shows long-term decline to be substituted by natural gas  imported from Norway and other countries.

Figure 12 France trends in percentage primary energy consumption.

Spain’s energy consumption rose steadily from 1965 to 2007 as the country witnessed rapid development after the death of General Franco in 1975 and EU membership in 1986 (Figure 13). Compared with its European peers, Spain is heavily reliant on oil in its energy mix, suggesting that a significant portion of electricity is still oil-fired. Spain’s energy consumption peaked in 2007, 1 year before the financial crash suggesting that energy consumption may have been a leading indicator of things to come. The heavy fall in oil consumption (Figure 15) may also reflect a decline in tourism.

Second only to Germany, Spain has embraced expansion of other renewables (ex hydro) and this has filled a gap in declining oil and gas consumption, the latter which the country can ill afford to pay for. But at the same time, Spain cannot afford to pay subsidies on indigenous wind and solar power production. This is an energy transition in the making that still has an uncertain outcome.

The post 2008 decline in primary energy consumption is indicative of all Eurozone periphery countries. Energy consumption and economic health march hand in hand when adjusted for energy efficiency gains.

Figure 13 Economic expansion and population growth spurred on by N European solar migrants gave birth to a 5 fold expansion in primary energy consumption in Spain from 1965 to 2007. Spain does not have a good energy mix, too heavily reliant upon imported oil that suffered a price explosion since 2002 leading to a fracture in the global finance system. Spain urgently needs to diversify its energy mix and staking its future on currently unaffordable renewables may not necessarily be the best option. The Spanish government could do worse than study the energy solution of close neighbour France.

Figure 14 Spain primary energy consumption percentage distribution.

Figure 15 Spain trends in primary energy consumption. Over-reliance on oil is self evident. Increase in other renewables has not off-set decline in oil and gas consumption. Recent decline in hydro, that reflects natural cycles in annual rainfall, has been compensated by increasing coal fired power generation.

Figure 16 Spain trends in percentage primary energy consumption.

Concluding thoughts
Each of these four major European countries has its own energy challenge based in part on the natural geological endowment of fossil fuels and in part upon the socio economic development that gave rise to the legacy energy infrastructure. For example, nuclear versus oil fired power generation. It is not possible for the energy policies of these diverse countries to be managed properly by diktat from Brussels.

Similarly, energy analysts based on other continents should be wary about providing advice on how individual European States should go about solving their energy challenges. European States need to have a very clear idea about what those energy challenges are which I will in part address in my next post on “The failure of Kyoto and the futility of European Energy Policy”.

Data and presentation
All data come from the 2013 BP statistical review of world energy that includes data up to calendar year 2012. In order to compare the energy output from coal with solar photovoltaics, the data need to be presented in common units. BP use the convention of million tonnes oil equivalent (mmtoe) which rebases all energy sources to the energy contained in a million tonnes of oil. This is imperfect, especially when comparing a physical fossil fuel energy store like oil with the electrical output from a device like a solar cell. BP say that direct electricity production is:

Converted on the basis of thermal equivalence assuming 38% conversion efficiency in a modern thermal power station

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21 Responses to Energiewende: Germany, UK, France and Spain

  1. Hi Euan,

    Thanks for an excellent post. Theme of renewables mainly replacing nukes is also playing out in California. The electricity share for in-state renewables rose 4% in the last two years, while the nuclear share dropped 8% and in-state fossil fuels rose 10%.

    • Leo Smith says:

      The problem is that renewables – intermittent renewables – can’t replace nuclear.
      It is necessary to consider renewables alongside whatever co-generation technology is used to provide the dispatch that the renewable source alone cannot.


      This makes a considerable difference to the emissions impact of renewable energy when viewed holistically ( a view its protagonists adroitly avoid wherever possible).

      • Hi Leo,

        Your point is well taken. I need a word that is less definite than “replace.”

        Maybe “offset”? I simply mean on annual share basis, without considering the other factors that you mention.

  2. phil scanlon says:

    “Spain does not have a good energy mix, too heavily reliant upon imported oil that suffered a price explosion since 2002 leading to a fracture in the global finance system. Spain urgently needs to diversify its energy mix and staking its future on currently unaffordable renewables may not necessarily be the best option.”
    I am confused that Spain is too heavily reliant upon imported oil – and I don’t think Spain has any uranium sources – yet renewables are “unaffordable”?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Phil, an examination of the charts / data shows that Spain is more heavily dependent on oil than its european peers, which is bad news with high oil prices. I’m assuming that Spain still generates electricity from oil, that was halted throughout most of the OECD following the 1979 oil price crisis. Happy to hear from a Spaniard on this point. Uranium represents about 2% of total cost of nuclear and so nuclear power accrues as indigenous primary energy production since the cost of importing U is negligible. My understanding is that renewables are currently cost competitive thanks to subsidies that in the case of near bankrupt Spain, the State can no longer afford to pay.


      • phil scanlon says:

        “since the cost of importing U is negligible”. I wonder if anyone ever used that argument for generating electricity from oil 🙂

        • Phil – numbers matter. Commercial nuclear fuel costs approximately 0.75 cents per kilowatt-hour or roughly 75 cents per MMBTU. That is an “all-in” cost that includes mining, conversion, fabrication, delivery, storage and disposal.

          Crude oil sells for $105 per barrel or $18.75 per MMBTU. That is 25 times as much for exactly the same quantity of heat, even before you add the cost of refining, transporting, and controlling the pollution.

  3. Luís says:

    Hi Euan. There’s no oil fired electricity in Spain, at least on a regular basis. I hope you can remember this post. Cheers.

    • purslane says:

      According to the IEA, Oil generated 14,772 GWh in Spain in 2011, about a third that generated from coal.

      • Leo Smith says:

        It does not seem possible to actually post more than a couple of lines reply to you directly as the boxes allowing you to post vanish if the text gets too big
        Look again at that link: the figures are for oil used in electricity AND HEATING.

        • purslane says:

          There is an electricity column and a heating column. The units of GWh obviously refer to electricity.

          • Leo Smith says:

            You are confusing units (thermal/electrical)with usage.

          • purslane says:

            The GWh values would seem to refer to electricity generation, not only because GWh is a unit of electricity production, but also because the values are in the electricity production column.

          • Leo Smith says:

            It is not an ‘electricity production column’
            It is a column expressed in electrical units of energy.
            The same way gas is measured in Kwh

  4. purslane says:

    According to the IEA, Spain generated 14,772 GWh from oil in 2011, about one-third the amount generated from coal.

  5. Euan Mearns says:

    @ Rod: Hi Rod, but let’s not forget that the kit used to convert U to electricity is much, much more expensive than say a CCGT, and the legacy is also more expensive to get rid of – i.e. the decommissioning and waste disposal costs. There are of course decommissioning costs with oil and gas too. Euan

  6. Greg vP says:

    Euan – capital cost is a key point. Those who used to be called investors are nowadays curiously reluctant to invest in projects that have multi-year payback periods.

    If this attitude persists, solar PV will come to dominate globally, because it’s the only energy technology that works at all scales from 10 milliwatts to 100 gigawatts and that can be scaled up or down at will, more or less instantly. Investment in PV can be scaled to exactly meet current individual needs, not the predicted needs of communities years or decades in the future, or according to engineering requirements. No policy required, nor even a competent government. Now that PV is no longer ridiculously expensive, it will come to dominate. It will probably take at least fifty years to do so, though. As your charts show clearly, currently PV is not even a rounding error.

    Of course, dark (winter) and gloomy (summer) Northern Europe will have to chart its own course. The above doesn’t apply chez vous.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hi Greg, agree with your comments on solar, wish I stayed somewhere hot and sunny! I haven’t got PV at home, thought about it, but given we get so little sunshine (next post), especially in winter, I really wonder about the energy economics. The sellers have told me that orientation doesn’t matter, hence in Aberdeen you are just as likely to see PV on N facing roofs as S – I’m not kidding. But apparently with so little direct sun it seems to make little difference up north where back scattered photons (?) dominate. The government, intent on taking a wrecking ball through our legacy centralised generating plant, will I dare say have to rebuild it with public money. I doubt the private sector will invest in Clean energy production that is more expensive and less efficient. Best, Euan

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