Questions & Answers

Why did carbon emissions increase in 2013, fall in 2014 and rise again in 2015?

In 2013, carbon emissions in Germany rose by around one percent, then fell by almost five percent, before rising again by 0.7 percent in 2015.

In 2015, record-high power exports and slightly colder weather led to greater carbon emissions, according to the German Environmental Agency. Carbon emissions were up by 0.7 percent year over year but have fallen by 27.2 percent since 1990.

According to the AGEB, the working group consisting of utility and finance experts that collate energy data for the country, the cold first half of 2013 was the main factor that year. Here, demand for heating energy was up, 80 percent of which is fossil fuel.

To address the heat and transport sectors, which make up roughly four-fifth of German power consumption, the German Energiewende would have to truly become an “energy” transition, not just an electricity transition. Only then can German carbon emissions from energy consumption truly be addressed. While most attention continues to be paid to coal power, Germany actually emits more carbon from oil consumption.

In the heat sector, there has been a gradual shift from heating oil and coal to natural gas, which has lower specific carbon emissions, but in the power sector, natural gas is more expensive in Germany as a source of electricity, where coal is still less expensive. A European-wide carbon price from emissions trading was to facilitate the transition from emissions-heavy coal power to more environmentally friendly natural gas, but the carbon price has remained far too low.

The mild weather in 2014 reduced demand for fossil fuel in the heat sector. In combination with 2 percent more renewable electricity as well as significantly reduced electricity consumption that year, carbon emissions decreased.

Within the power sector, the increase in coal power production is mainly due to the record level of power exports, especially to the Netherlands. In 2013, German electricity exports to other countries rose at the same level as coal power production, which renewable electricity – which has a priority on the grid – would otherwise have offset. Coal plants are generally inflexible and cannot ramp up and down quickly to meet demand, so they prefer to sell power at very low cost. Likewise, the low carbon price in Europe means that coal power remains economically competitive. The solution here would be a much higher carbon price.