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Renewable energies

Renewable energies 18 make a large and growing contribution to Germany’s energy supply. In 2016, the share of renewable energies amounted to 12 % of the total primary energy consumption.


Source: Energy Balances Consortium – March 2017

The contribution to the electricity sector is particularly high; more than 30 % of the gross electricity consumption is covered by renewable sources (more than 190,000 GWh). The Federal Government has set itself the goal of decarbonising the energy supply almost completely by 2050, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2015, the combustion of fossil energies accounted for more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany (752 Mt CO2 equivalents). 19 . Fossil-fuelled power plants are currently needed (in addition to renewable energies) to meet energy requirements in Germany.

The technologies of renewable energies require steel, cement or petrochemical raw materials as the following example shows: The components of a wind turbine consist of roughly 45% crude oil and petrochemical industry products. One wind turbine blade can be 30 to 50 metres long in large wind turbines and it contains up to 12,000 kg of petrochemical products.

The political objective of the Federal Government not only has an impact on the German and European energy industry, but also on the German natural resources industry. Natural resources requirements are changing in Germany due to the energy transition – the demand for quarried resources, copper, steel, cobalt, lithium, rare earths, platinum group metals, indium and tellurium is increasing with the construction of renewable energy plants, storage facilities and intelligent networks. We will also experience displacement effects in the demand for natural resources: The change in the electricity production mix will influence the production of secondary raw materials. The decline in coal production, for example, affects the production of FGD gypsum. A decline in production would have to be compensated for by a corresponding increase in primary natural resource extraction (natural gypsum). This shows that a reliable supply of mineral and metallic raw materials and safe access to local deposits of natural resources are prerequisites for the success of the energy transition – and also for smooth-running production processes in the German natural resources industry.

Some of the metals required for the energy transition (e.g. electronic elements such as indium, germanium and gallium) are additional raw materials, i.e. they are obtained as by-products during the extraction of a different metal. In the case of these metals, the regulatory mechanisms for the supply of natural resources only function to a limited extent. In Germany and Europe, potential deposits like this do exist, with the result that import dependencies could be reduced through the targeted development of these deposits and the extraction of their natural resources.

In 2015, investments in renewable energies amounted to €15 billion, while the operation of the existing plants generated €14.7 billion in sales. The expansion of renewable energies can affect employment by increasing demand for the energies’ related goods and services. Wind power led the way – in 2015 the sector employed more than 140,000 people. The expansion of renewable energies is financed by feed-in tariffs which are higher than the stock exchange electricity price and this benefits renewable energy system operators. These feed-in tariffs are paid by the end users in the form of an additional charge on their electricity bills. If renewable energies are to expand further, industrial energy projects must be suitably combined with the development of the renewable energies. This also applies to the German natural resources industry, which has already established a series of wind, biomass, geothermal, solar and hydroelectric power projects in Germany.

Renewable energy sources are used in electricity and heat generation and in the transport sector. The most important renewable energy source in the electricity sector is also wind power: In 2016, 40% of the renewable electricity was generated from wind energy. Wind energy plays a vital role in the expansion of renewable energies, an expansion which will ultimately result in an economically-viable and climate-friendly energy supply at reasonable prices and with a high level of general prosperity. The use of wind energy now accounts for more than 13 % of German electricity consumption. Wind turbines have been built on various closed minesites in North Rhine-Westphalia, mainly on now-green colliery slag heaps on which favourable wind conditions exist – and these man-made hills have a ‘model character’ in Germany. In addition to the further development of suitable land sites and the replacement of older, smaller wind turbines by modern and more powerful models – so-called ‘repowering’ – the expansion of wind energy at sea is also becoming increasingly important. In 2016 alone, wind energy turbines were installed with a capacity of around 4,500 MW on land and roughly 700 MW at sea. Wind turbines with a total capacity of around 47,000 MW are now operating in Germany; they produced almost 80,000 GWh of electricity in 2016, one sixth of which was generated by wind turbines at sea. The Federal Government is planning to have an offshore wind power of 15,000 MW on the grid by the year 2030. In view of this expansion and the ever-increasing power units (more than 10 MW per wind turbine), the need for mineral and metallic natural resources will also increase. Concrete, for example, is required for the construction of wind turbine foundations. This also means a correspondingly higher demand for limestone for cement production and for aggregates such as gravel and sand.

Biomass has also become a very relevant energy source for electricity generation. The total capacity of biomass electricity generation plants is around 7,200 MW; electricity generation in 2016 amounted to more than 50,000 GWh (9 % of the total electricity consumption and 23 % of the renewable electricity generation). In addition to biogas (including biomethane and landfill and sewage gas), solid and liquid biomasses and biogenic waste are also used to generate electricity, but biogas is the most important single biogenic energy source for electricity generation with 63 % (2016) of the entire biomass.

Solar energy can also be used to generate electricity. More than 1.5 million photovoltaic plants convert the sun’s radiation energy directly into electricity – these plants represented a total of around 40,000 MW of installed capacity in Germany at the end of 2016, and around 1,000 MW of power were added in that year. Electricity generation from photovoltaics continues to rise steadily as a result, attaining approximately 38,000 GWh in 2016. Photovoltaics thus accounted for 6.5 % of the total electricity consumption and contributed 20 % to the renewable energy supply. German mining companies are also increasingly opting for the use of photovoltaic systems at various mining sites in Germany.

In addition to wind, biomass and photovoltaics, hydropower also contributed to electricity generation with around 22,000 GWh in 2016.

Renewable energy sources are not only used by the electricity sector, they are also being used increasingly in the heating sector. In 2016, a total of 165,000 GWh was produced by renewable heat sources. The most important renewable energy sources for heat generation are biogenic solids with 111,000 GWh, produced mainly by wood in the form of e.g. wood pellets. Biogas, biogenic waste and geothermal energy and heat harnessed by heat pumps are also relevant renewable heat sources, each of which generated heat in excess of 10,000 GWh in 2016. As a base-load capable form of energy with a high annual production performance (the target for geothermal power plants target is > 8,000 h), deep geothermal energy is an integral part of a meaningful energy mix. Geothermal energy for heating is steadily growing in importance. Solar thermal energy also contributed to the supply of heat with around 7,000 GWh.

In the transport sector, biomass can reduce CO2 emissions, especially in the form of biofuels such as bioethanol, biodiesel and biogas for cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft. Electric vehicles are another option for reducing CO2 emissions. In 2015, renewable energies accounted for 5.3 % of fuel consumption in Germany.

Thanks to its flexible use in the electricity, heating and transport sectors, biomass is the most important renewable energy source. In 2015, 60 % of the total final energy from renewable energy sources was provided by the various types of biomass used for energy purposes.

The expansion of renewable energies helps to avoid greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the use of fossil energy sources which are mainly imported. Despite the expansion of renewable energies, conventional power plants are still needed. Since fossil fuels such as mineral oil, natural gas and hard coal are mostly imported in Germany, savings in this sector will also lead to a reduction in German energy imports: Renewable energies, as well as electricity generation based on Germany’s own energy raw materials can significantly reduce these import dependencies and thus increase energy security.

18 Source of the figures stated in the report: BMWi (2016): Erneuerbare Energien in Zahlen (Facts & Figures on Renewables), AGEE-Stat (2016): Entwicklung der erneuerbaren ­Energien in Deutschland im Jahr 2016 (Development of Renewables in Germany in 2016).

19 BMWi energy data from March 16, 2017, greenhouse gas emissions are presented by type of gas and source categories.