Germany’s energiewende (energy transition) has been in the news.
Angela Merkel’s Vice Chancellor Stuns, Declares Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ To Be On ‘The Verge Of Failure’! 
No other major economy has embraced the dream more than Germany of abandoning fossil fuel and nuclear power in the name of saving planet Earth. If the German energiewende was to fail then surely it must fail everywhere else?
The penetration of wind energy in 2012 was 3.4% and solar 2.1% of total energy consumed and I would judge that this is too low a level of penetration from which to draw any conclusion about the success or failure of the energiewende. This in itself is a problem. Huge investment and publicity so far has produced rather little in return. In electricity production, wind accounted for 7% and solar 5% of total production. If the grid cannot easily tolerate these levels of electricity production this augers badly for future expansion.
There is no macro-scale evidence as yet that pursuing the energeiwende has either harmed or helped the German economy that continues to power onwards and upwards.
Figure 1 In 2012, 10% of Germany’s total energy consumption was from renewable sources, the remainder from fossil fuels and a dwindling amount from nuclear power. The spilt in the renewables segment is hydro 16%, wind 34%, solar 21% and other (bio-mass) 30%. The contribution from these renewable sources to the whole was roughly one-tenth of these percentages in 2012.
Figure 2 Penetration of renewables power generation reached an average of 22% in 2012. This has continued to grow with a recent peak generation record of near 75%  in May 2014. But wind and to a lesser extent solar continue to present the problem of being there one moment and gone the next. Deep penetration of renewables into Germany’s power sector is undermining the economic viability of the traditional generators upon which the renewable generators depend to balance the grid. The conventional thermal generation is deduced by deducting renewable generation from total generation.
All of the energy statistics reported here are drawn from the 2013 BP statistical review of world energy . The economic and population data are drawn from the United Nations National Accounts Main Aggregates Database . All data sources are referenced on charts.
Figure 3 Renewables reached 22% of total generation in 2012. 7% from wind and 5% from solar. Only the German people and government can say whether or not this relatively small contribution is worth the intrusion and cost and the disruption to smooth operation of the grid.
Figure 4 The official reason for Germany’s energiewende is to reduce CO2 emissions, aiming for zero emissions by 2050. Unfortunately Green pressure is also resulting in the closure of nuclear plant and this has consumed 63% of the gains from new renewables since 2001!
Figure 5 Relatively speaking, Germany is an energy poor nation. BP do not report oil production suggesting it is negligible. The small amount of gas production is in decline. Coal is Germany’s main indigenous resource. Deep mining for hard coal is continuing many decades of managed decline while surface mining of low grade lignite is reported to be rising and coal production figures rose in 2011 and 2012. This is an emblem of failure of the energiewende. Nuclear power is also undergoing managed decline. The only significant expansion is new renewables. The most significant observation from this chart is that growth in new renewables has not replaced the decline from other sources.
Figure 6 This picture of Germany’s primary energy consumption is very similar to that for the UK. Overall the trend is down since the second oil shock of 1979. Gas starts close to zero in 1965 and expands to substitute for coal in power production and home heat. Renewables are expanding because of political manipulation of the energy market.
Figure 7 With primary energy production running at roughly 100 million toe (tonnes oil equivalent) per annum and consumption at 300 toe per annum, Germany imports roughly 200 million toe per annum, about two-thirds of all energy consumed.
Figure 8 Germany is the 4th largest economy in the world after the USA, China and Japan. Like Japan and S Korea, Germany is energy poor and has a large bill to pay for energy imports. With a large export orientated manufacturing sector, Germany manages to pay this bill with consummate ease and has run a large structural surplus since the year 2000. Since 1970, the cumulative surplus amounts to 1.7 trillion $US (current). Germany has benefited from the adoption of the € in 1999 since, for the highly efficient German economy, the € is undervalued making German exports cheap on international markets.
Figure 9 To have a large economy you need to have a large population. Post re-unification (1990) Germany was left with a population of 80 million making it the biggest European country by far. The population is now in slow decline. Since 1970 GDP (in constant $2005) has more than doubled while population has been effectively flat.
Figure 10 The population structure of Germany still bears the scars of WWII with sharply reduced numbers of old males. The most striking feature though is the low numbers of young people. As the population ages, the smaller numbers of young will struggle to support the growing numbers of old.
Figure 11 Since 1970, per capita GDP in Germany has risen steadily while per capita energy consumption has been in decline since the mid-80s. Per capita energy consumption in 2012 was 3.77 toe, close to but slightly higher than the UK figure of 3.24 toe per capita.
Figure 12 From 1970 to 1985 growth in German GDP was accompanied by growth in energy consumption. Since 1985 Germany has pulled off a miracle by growing GDP with a static population and declining per capita energy consumption. This in part is down to growing efficiency of German industry – turning out more high quality and expensive cars, with contributions from off-shored manufacturing in China and city boys in Frankfurt performing financial magic tricks by producing money out of nothing.
Figure 13 The evolving view of the relationship between national per capita energy consumption and GDP is I believe getting interesting. The data series are time series normally increasing from bottom left (1980) to top right (2012) (or from bottom to top). The dashed line is constant efficiency of converting energy to GDP = $11,667 (current international $) per toe. Portugal and Turkey are equally efficient as Germany in converting energy to money but Germany is wealthier because it is able to consume (i.e. process) more energy per capita. I was surprised to see how similar Germany was to the UK, but also note how quickly a yawning gap has opened up post-2008 as the German economy recovered while the UK economy stagnated as some of the city boy phantom GDP went up in smoke. I will shortly do a separate post on the significance of this chart once I have added a few more countries – Luxembourg, USA, Canada, China, Japan, S Korea, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brazil and South Africa. Suggestions welcome.
I have not been to Germany for many years but will visit my younger son in Munich this summer and look forward to seeing whether or not the deployment of renewables has thus far scarred Germany.
Germany is reported to be building 10 new coal fired power stations . Some of these may replace old plant closed under the EU large power plant directive and others the closure of nuclear power plants. No doubt the new coal fired stations will have a flange that says “connect CCS here” (carbon capture and storage). I am left with a feeling that Germany is wearing an environmental heart on its sleave, whilst planning its energy future with its head.
The substitution of low carbon nuclear base load by wind and solar power must be one of the most unusual strategies ever adopted in the battle to reduce CO2 emissions.
 Angela Merkel’s Vice Chancellor Stuns, Declares Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ To Be On ‘The Verge Of Failure’!
 Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent Of Power Needs From Renewable Energy
 BP: Statistical Review of World Energy 2013
 UN: National Accounts Main Aggregates Database
 Steag Starts Coal-Fired Power Plant in Germany
Other countries in this series of posts
Egypt – energy, population and economy
Libya – energy, population and economy
Turkey – on its way to a mature economy
Ukrainian Death Spiral
Does the UK Economy Run on Energy or Hot Air?
Portugal – renewables to the rescue?
Belarus grows while Ukraine withers
Goodluck Nigeria – a failed state?