Gas, a prominent guest at German energy transition event

The first spare pipes for the Nord-Stream Baltic Sea pipeline are stored on shore in Lubmin, Germany, 19 June 2012. Reports on 13 February 2019 state the European Union has reached a provisional compromise agreement on more control on the Nord Stream gas pipeline that is currently being built across the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. [EPA-EFE/STEFAN SAUER GERMANY OUT]

As Germany is gradually phasing out nuclear and coal energy, Berlin is increasingly considering gas as key in bridging the gap between a fossil-fuels based and a low carbon economy.

“The energy transition is on its way in Germany with the implementation of new technologies and cooperation,” German minister for economy and energy, Peter Altmaier, said in his opening speech at the 5th edition of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD).

He referred to renewables, hydrogen and gas technologies.

“We will have to shut down old and inefficient power stations and build modern gas stations,” he said, adding that his objective is to secure an affordable and reliable energy sector.

Altmaier reiterated a statement he made in an interview with business daily Handelsblatt: “We also need flexibility options, with gas-fired power plants being the very first choice. I have no doubt that there are entrepreneurs who make the necessary investments”.

In his speech in Berlin, he stressed: “In the power and industry sector, Germany is on a good path to reach its 2030 climate targets but there are still big challenges in the transport and building sectors”.

Ministers and high-level delegations from more than 50 countries are gathering in Berlin for the government’s fifth energy transition dialogue set to promote the German energy transition abroad.

They are to discuss the “major geopolitical consequences”, as German foreign minister Heiko Maas put it in his opening remarks, linked to the global shift to green energy.

“The best prevention is to extensively invest into competitive renewables already today,” said Maas. Germany would use what many see as its pioneering role to “speed up international progress”.

No mention of carbon pricing

At no point in his speech did Altmaier mention carbon pricing, although Reuters reported on Friday (5 April) his ministry is considering introducing a new carbon emission tax.

The debate about carbon pricing is intensifying in Germany, in part also due to the pressure from the Fridays For Future student climate protests, according to climate scientist Ottmar Edenhofer.

They are making many politicians “very, very nervous”, Edenhofer told energy and climate journalists gathered at the Clean Energy Wire’s Global Energy Transition Journalism Conference in Berlin on Monday.

On Friday, representatives of the Fridays for Future in Germany presented the measures they want the German government to adopt in order to effectively fight global warming: carbon pricing, electricity based 100% on renewables by 2035, the end of subsidies for fossil fuels and the closure of one-fourth of Germany’s coal power plants.

No mention of 100% renewables scenario

Altmaier’s promotion of gas comes against the backdrop of rising global emissions, growing coal consumption and slow improvement in energy efficiency.

“Despite the Paris Agreement goals, last year emissions went up, coal use is still growing and energy efficiency is slowing down,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) during a presentation at BETD.

”Energy efficiency is a blind spot in the energy transition. We need to start with reducing the energy we consume to increase the uptake of sustainable energy,” he said.

“In 2018, 70% of energy demand was met by fossil fuels. Emissions hit a historical high. There is a growing disconnect better political statements, the rise of emissions and what is happening on the ground,” he also said, underlining that global energy demand growth by 2.3% (all fuels) in 2018.

Birol’s comments came after 60 business leaders, scientists and investors complained in an open letter published 2 April that IEA’s climate models are not in line with the Paris Agreement 2°C-1.5°C path,

“The New Policies Scenario (NPS) is a business as usual scenario that charts a dangerous course to a world with between 2.7ºC and 3ºC warming,” the letter reads.  

The authors called on the IEA to “develop an updated, fully transparent ‘Sustainable Development Scenario’ to reflect the full range of ambition of the Paris goals and make this the central reference of the World Energy Outlook (WEO)”.

The release of a new report by IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) titled ‘Global energy transformation: A roadmap to 2050‘ by the newly appointed Director-General Francesco La Camera added more fuel to the debate about the urgency to decarbonise the global economy.

The study found that energy-related CO2-emissions have increased 1.3% annually, on average, over the last five years.

“The gap between observed emissions and the reductions that are needed to meet internationally agreed climate objectives is widening,” it said and pointed out that the uptake of renewable energies in the buildings and industry sector is still well below the levels needed.

“To stay in line with the Paris Agreement, the only instrument we have is renewables,” La Camera said in his first engagement abroad as the director-general of IRENA.

However, the study describes a path to 86% renewables by 2050, rather than 100%, with the expansion of electric vehicles as one of the main drivers.

“The primary drivers for this increased electricity demand would be over 1 billion electric vehicles, increased use of electricity for heat and the emergence of renewable hydrogen,” it said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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