Increase of German Lignite-fired Power Production Widely Reported

Preliminary information by AG Energiebilanzen (Working Group Energy Balances – AGEB) that German lignite-fired power production increased to 162 billion kWh has been widely reported in the media and commented by politicians and interested parties.

Lignite-fired power production increased from 160.7 billion kWh in 2012 to 162 billion kWh in 2013, accounting for 25.8% of the gross electricity production in Germany. This is the highest figure since 1990, the year after the German reunification in which many former East German coal-fired power plants were still in operation.

Green party members called on the government to canvass for higher EU emission allowance prices to curb lignite coal production, media reports said.

First preliminary estimates for German CO2 emissions in 2013 indicated an increase, yet this was attributable to the cold weather at the beginning of 2013, the magazine Stern quotes the Germany Environmental Agency (UBA) as saying. The association of lignite coal producers, Bundesverband Braunkohle, emphasised that the rise of lignite-fired power production of roughly 1% was accompanied by efficiency gains due to more modern coal-fired power plants leading to a decrease of the use of lignite resources by almost 2% to 182 million tons. The association also said that CO2 emissions by power plants were capped by the European Emission Trading System EU ETS. Hence efforts to limit lignite-fuelled power production in Germany would only lead to a shift of production to other European countries.

The fact that hard coal-fired power production also rose from 116.4 billion kWh in 2012 to 124 billion kWh, accounting for 19.7% of the gross electricity production, appears to not be as widely reported. Gas power production on the other hand fell from 76.4 billion kWh to 66 billion kWh. This shows that the phase-out of nuclear energy, on which Germany decided following the nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, is to a considerable degree made up for by coal-fired power plants. However, renewable power sources increased to 147.1 billion kWh in 2013 (2012: 143.5 billion kWh), whereas gas-fired power plants were often too expensive to compete.

The energy policy shift also has consequences for electricity imports and exports. In total Germany has been exporting more than it has been importing for the past ten years (and occasionally even before). However, exports have been particularly high in 2012, amounting to 23.8 billion kWh. They rose further to 33 billion kWh in 2013.

Sources: AG Energiebilanzen (Working Group Energy Balances – AGEB), information on gross electricity production in Germany from 1999 to 2013 (preliminary information for 2013); preliminary information on energy consumption in Germany in 2013; Stern

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7 Responses to “Increase of German Lignite-fired Power Production Widely Reported”


  • Interesting that electricity exports in 2012-2013 increased far faster than renewable electricity generation.

    Is this due to decrease in gas generation? Less flexible generation?

  • Christian Roselund

    I frankly expected better work from German Energy Blog, given your excellent reporting on other aspects of the German energy system.

    Your article reads: “This shows that the phase-out of nuclear energy, on which Germany decided following the nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, is to a considerable degree made up for by coal-fired power plants.”

    And yet, in the previous sentence, you note that gas production fell 10.4 TWh. The latest AGEB estimate is that nuclear generation decreased 2.5 TWh in 2013, whereas lignite and hard coal generation increased 8.9 TWh.

    If every electron that nuclear power plants did not produce in 2013 was made up for by coal, this would still represent less than a third of the increase in coal-fired generation.

    There is a lot of anti-renewable, pro-nuclear propaganda out there that would like to blame the increase on coal use on the nuclear-phase out and the Energiewende. However, it is obvious to anyone who reviews these statistics that Germany is switching from gas to coal.

    I am greatly disappointed that German Energy Blog chose to echo this propaganda instead of conducting a more thorough analysis of the German energy system.

  • “However, [net] exports have been particularly high in 2012, amounting to 23.8 billion kWh. They rose further to 33 billion kWh in 2013.”

    Starting in May 2012, Germany has been exporting about 3 GW to the Netherlands — about 26 billion kW-h/yr. What happened?
    2012 (p.50): http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/downloads-englisch/pdf-files-englisch/news/electricity-production-from-solar-and-wind-in-germany-in-2012.pdf/at_download/file
    2013 (p.54): http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/downloads-englisch/pdf-files-englisch/news/electricity-production-from-solar-and-wind-in-germany-in-2013.pdf/at_download/file

  • Coal can replace nukes. Nuclear can replace coal. Gas can do it too, if one is rich or lives in Qatar. Hydro is great if one is in Norway. Renewables have been around since 1975 and they have failed to replace anything, anywhere. That simple. Intermittent, random, variable power that cannot be stored inexpensively and in quantities is a liability in a grid. Try running an emergency room with solar and/or wind.

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