how Berlin intends to wean itself permanently from fossil fuels

If its concrete effects on the climate remain barely perceptible, the energy transition seems well and truly under way in Germany, ten years after its structuring decision to do without nuclear power. Indeed, while the new coalition in power (SPD, Greens and Liberals) now displays an ambition to exit coal ” ideally »From 2030 (against 2038 previously), it intends, at the same time, to give a boost to the installation of wind turbines and solar panels. A hot topic to say the least, at the origin of local resistance across the Rhine, but also of turbulence within the ecologist party.

In fact, without nuclear power or an increase in fossil fuels, the country’s room for maneuver is limited to hope to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 – five years before the deadline set by the European Commission for the entire continent. Especially since time is running out: by 2030, Germany will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by no less than 65% compared to 1990, the Minister of the Economy recalled this Tuesday, January 11. and Climate, Robert Habeck (Les Verts). Therefore, he announced, Berlin plans to relax the rules for setting up wind farms, and dedicate 2% of its territory to them against less than 1% currently available for this purpose.. As for solar energy, it will be ” compulsory for new commercial constructions ”, and will become the rule for new private constructions », Indicated the minister. Moreover, while Germany should reduce its energy consumption ” from 20 to 25% ”, The coalition intends to produce 50% of the heating in a carbon neutral manner by 2030, and to accelerate the insulation of buildings. So many measures that the government will submit in the coming months, through “ several major climate laws “.

“We need to pick up the pace and be more efficient in the next few years. […] We have succeeded in reducing emissions by 15 million tonnes from 2010 to 2020, and from 2022 to 2030 we need to reduce them by 40 million tonnes per year on average. […] The task is great. It’s gigantic ”, argued Robert Habeck, presenting his roadmap for the energy transition.

The establishment of wind turbines divides the Greens

Unsurprisingly, these proposals are in line with the ambitious objective recently set by the coalition of 80% renewable energies by 2030 in electricity consumption, against about 45% in 2020. But all are far from being done. unanimity, while part of the Greens are worried about the risks of too rapid deployment of wind turbines, which, according to them, could prove harmful to the environment and local biodiversity.

“The subject causes tensions within the apparatus of the party of the Greens, which is divided between two broad lines, the” fundamentalists “and the” pragmatists “”, specifies Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, director of the Energy Center of the Jacques Delors Institute, which recently published a note on the German energy transition.

Aware of the divisions on the subject, Robert Habeck recognized that these new installations could arouse local resistance, and called for ” cooperation of the greatest number “.

We must not have any illusions; it is not only a technical question, but also a question which touches deeply on social reality and which can only be won if it is carried out as a social debate », He affirmed.

After nuclear in 2022, Germany wants to exit coal eight years earlier than expected (in 2030)

Electricity consumption from coal is increasing

Nevertheless, the executive intends to step up the pace, while Germany takes ” the wrong direction “In terms of CO2 emissions, hammered Robert Habeck. Indeed, the outlook is bleak: while the country’s energy consumption increased by 2.6%, after the height of the health crisis, the government expects a 4% increase in gas emissions. greenhouse effect for 2021.

“It is likely that we are missing our climate objectives in 2022 and 2023”, regretted the Minister..

For good reason, if the share of electricity from renewable sources has increased a lot in recent years, and even doubled in a decade, its level fell last year (a first since 1997) to 42% of the electricity mix. One of the main reasons is the poor performance of wind turbines, due to a lack of wind.

Fatally, at the same time, the production of electricity produced from fossil fuels has not weakened, on the contrary. And in particular that from coal, whose consumption grew by almost 18% in 2021, against + 4% for natural gas. Thus, overall, although the demand for this fuel in Germany has been divided by three since 1990, 28.9% of the electricity injected into the country’s grid still came from coal-fired power stations in the first quarter of 2021, “ compared to 13% on average in the European Union », We can read in the note from the Jacques Delors Institute. And the recent explosion in gas prices has further accentuated the phenomenon.

“While they are reaching unprecedented levels, the crisis inevitably gives coal an advantage. And especially lignite [extraite directement sur le territoire, ndlr], which is the worst of all. We will have to observe what will happen when gas prices reach a more “normal” level, ”argues Thomas Pellerin-Carlin.

Soon hydrogen power plants?

There is no doubt that the fundamental question of the place of gas in the German electricity mix will also arise. Because here again, the country’s dependence on this fossil fuel persists. And should not weaken with the next start-up of the giant Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline (even if Germany has suspended the certification process for the time being). Especially since an exit from coal in 2030 will involve, to compensate for the associated loss of production, ” the construction of modern gas power plants in the territory, in order to cover the growing needs for electricity and energy over the coming years at competitive prices Recently argued the leader of the coalition, Olaf Scholz (SPD). However, fossil gas power plants, although they pollute less than those using lignite or hard coal, today still emit much more greenhouse gases than nuclear reactors.

To gradually wean it off, the government intends in particular to rely on the emergence of low-carbon gases. Among which the biomethane, resulting from the fermentation of waste, or the hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water thanks to the boom renewables. But while such a scenario involves strong technological bets, the game seems far from won.

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