On March 26th 2022, Stephan Brandner, Deputy Federal Spokesperson of the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), posted a press release on Instagram in which he claims that Germany will never fulfill its energy demand with only wind energy and solar power. Different studies have proven that this statement is false.
In the past the AfD has often fought to reverse the energy transition and continue to support nuclear and coal-fired power stations. Their election program says: “A complete change of our energy supply to volatile “renewable” energy sources is unecological, unrealistic and therefore to be rejected.” In his press release Stephan Brandner also speaks of “a lack of base load capability.” Technologies that produce energy on a permanent basis are called base-load capable. Unlike renewable energies, fossil fuels are not dependent on sun, water or wind. However, experts are realizing that baseload capability will become less and less important in the future. The German Climate Consortium (DKK) comments: “The dark period, so the lack of energy supply due to both calm conditions and no sunshine, is a manageable risk in times of network-controlled supra-regional and trans-European energy supply. “
How much energy does Germany currently need and where does it come from?
In 2020 Germany’s final energy consumption from industry, transport, households and commerce was 8341 petajoules (PJ), which is equivalent to 2316 terawatt hours (TWh). This energy came from two different sources: 943 TWh were generated by renewables, fossil fuels, and nuclear energy domestically and more than three times as much (3428 TWh) were imported from abroad. Let’s have a look at the power generation in Germany. First of all it is not only about electricity. In fact, three energy sectors must be considered altogether: Electricity, heat and mobility. In 2020 half of the energy produced domestically was generated by electricity.
In 2020 the share of renewables in net electricity generation exceeded 50 percent for the first time. Net electricity generation is the result of gross electricity generation minus the power plant’s own consumption. This amount is the actual electricity mix that comes out of the electrical outlet at home or is used to charge an electric vehicle. However, according to the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection, the three energy sectors of electricity, heat and mobility will still change quite a bit. With more and more electric cars on the streets, the electricity consumption will increase, which will also reduce the required amount of energy for mobility.
Is it possible to generate the energy we need from renewable sources like wind energy and solar power?
Yes. The Federal Environment Office classifies 13.8% of Germany’s land area as technically and ecologically usable for wind turbine technology. This could generate 2900 TWh per year. However, the actual potential is much lower. In reality economic conditions, beneficiary claims and low acceptance among the citizens must be taken into account. Despite these limitations, wind energy plays a central role in the energy transition in addition to solar power and other renewable energy sources. If photovoltaic systems (PV) are installed not only on rooftops, but also on agricultural land, artificial lakes, facades, parking lots, roads, noise barriers and even vehicles, there is more than enough surface area for strong expansion of PV systems. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems estimates the technical potential of PV systems at 3160 GW. The performance ratio indicates the efficiency of a photovoltaic system. The higher this value, the better the quality of the system. A different study shows that nowadays modern photovoltaic systems have a performance ratio of 80%. On average they reach full performance 910 hours per year. Multiplying the 3160 GW technical potential with the performance ratio of 80% with the full performance of 910 hours, we get a total energy production of 2300480 GWh or 2300 TWh.
3160 GW * 0,8 * 910 h = 2300480 GWh
Theoretically, the combination of wind turbines and solar panels could generate a total of more than 5000 TWh of energy alone. That is more than twice as much as the final energy consumption in 2020.
But realistically, would that be possible?
We currently consume 550 to 580 TWh of electricity each year. The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection estimates that this consumption will increase to at least 800 to 900 TWh by 2050 because of the change of the energy sectors. This is why a major expansion of solar and wind energy is necessary. Especially wind energy is an important element. However, considering the current objections of politics, economy and the citizens, the realistic potential of wind power is much lower than in theory.
Nevertheless, it is still possible to cover Germany’s entire energy consumption through renewable energy. In the study “100% Renewable Energies for Electricity and Heat in Germany”, scientists of The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems describe how a reduced energy consumption can be covered in the future. According to the scientists, four steps are necessary to reduce the energy consumption:
- Reduction of the heating demand of the building sector by 50% compared to 2010.
- Reduction of fuel consumption in industry by 30%.
- Switch from today’s fuel-based transportation to electricity-based transportation (50% battery and 50% hydrogen).
- Reduction of the non-energy electricity consumption by 30%.
This figure shows how a reduced energy consumption could be covered by renewable energies. The left diagram shows the energy consumption of the different energy sectors in TWh. The right diagram shows the energy production of the different renewable energy sources. It is shown that a reduced energy consumption can be covered entirely by renewable energies.
However, most likely Germany will continue to import energy, as there are simply more affordable and more efficient locations for renewable energy outside of the country. For this reason, a well-developed energy network within Europe is necessary.
Stephan Brander did not include any references in his statement, I contacted him via abgeordnetenwatch.de and sent him the studies via e-mail but he never answered, therefore it is unknown on which information he based his claim. However, numerous studies prove that renewable energies are technically capable of covering 100% of Germany’s energy demand. In reality, there are also considerations on how the energy needs can be covered in the most efficient way. The most realistic solution is a combination of domestic energy production through solar and wind power and imports from abroad. Therefore, the statement that Germany will never fulfill its energy requirements with only wind energy and solar power, is false.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE: Sarah Anthony, Hochschule der Medien, Stuttgart (Germany)
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