Last changed: 17/04/12
How can we reconcile our attempts to provide a secure energy supply with the need to protect the climate? How can we be more efficient in our provision of delivered energy, in particular electricity? What role do renewable energies and fossil energy sources play? What role does CO2 capture and storage play? What policy framework do we need to achieve more environmentally friendly energy provision? What can local authorities do to move towards a sustainable energy supply?
About 80 % of all greenhouse gas emissions are energy related. For that reason, effective emission reductions in the energy sector are particularly important in achieving climate protection targets. Local and district heating from efficient combined heat and power generation and an environmentally sound electricity supply play a major role here. With our scientific work, we support the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in designing Germany’s climate protection policy. We also develop scientifically based concepts on climate protection in local authorities and provide information on questions of environmentally sound energy provision.
Germany’s electricity supply is secure – despite the nuclear phase-out and without having to build additional fossil-fuel-fired power plants without combined heat and power (CHP) generation over the next years. This is the result of a UBA study on climate protection and supply security – development of a sustainable electricity supply in German, English-language summary available. In order to achieve climate protection objectives, electricity supply must change profoundly: more renewable energies, less consumption of electricity through more efficiency, expansion of CHP, and a switch to less CO2-intensive fuels such as gas.
A study by BET on supply security in electricity supply in German shows that a significant extension of the investigation methodology, based on the criteria climate protection, cost-effectiveness and reliability and security of supply, is required to seriously answer the question of what the best options are for the development of existing power plants. Key determinants are output and energy balances which take into account both balancing energy and reserve energy in a dynamic context as well as the political framework, such as reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the promotion of renewable energy sources.
Consumers can make an important contribution to protecting the environment and the climate by choosing an electricity supplier offering environmentally sound electricity. The study on the potential and requirements of electricity labelling in German, published by the Federal Environment Agency in 2007, concluded that the electricity labelling scheme introduced in 2006, under which disclosure of information about the fuel mix used to generate the electricity is mandatory, makes it significantly easier to incorporate environmental protection criteria when choosing an electricity supplier (see also press release 045/2007).
For help in choosing an appropriate electricity supplier, please visit the green electricity tariff calculator in German.
Electricity consumption continues to rise and is therefore becoming a key area in our endeavours to create a sustainable energy economy. The challenges and problems of sustainable generation and use of electricity were explored in a research project. Sustainable development depends on exploiting all the available potential for saving electricity in all areas of application and on making the necessary structural changes in electricity generation. In a study on the future of electricity as part of sustainable development in German, the structural, social and economic obstacles that make sustainable generation and use of electricity difficult or even impossible were therefore analysed.
Generating electricity produces heat. Instead of this heat simply being released into the atmosphere as a waste product, it makes more sense to use it in some way - to heat buildings for example. This is the principle used in modern power stations that generate combined heat and power (CHP). They are not only more economically efficient, but also bring about considerable savings in terms of fuel and climate-damaging greenhouse gases.
A number of research projects commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency have looked at the topic of combined heat and power and local and district heating.
Combined heat and power generation (CHP) could make a greater contribution to climate protection and resource conservation if its expansion in Germany were stepped up. To date, CHP’s share in electricity production has stagnated at about 10 % since the mid-1990s. The impetus provided by the 2002 Heat-Power Cogeneration Act is not sufficient to achieve our CO2 reduction targets. The study to identify potential for using combined heat and power generation and achievable reduction of CO2 emissions including an assessment of costs in German shows the possible effects of instruments to promote CHP and gives an overview of its use to date in Germany.
The high overall efficiency of CHP processes ensures that greenhouse gas emissions from generating district heating and electricity are low. In a study to identify specific greenhouse gas emission factors for district heating in German, emission factors for heating and electricity were calculated for Germany, broken down into heating plants and combined heating and power plants.
The study on the potential of local and district heating networks to impact on climate protection by 2020 in German shows the requirements that heating supply networks need to fulfil to deliver the district and local heating generated in CHP plants to homes and businesses and thus contribute to achieving the federal government’s climate protection targets by 2020.
An efficient heating supply with a rapidly growing share of renewables is perfectly possible. In 2007, the Federal Environment Agency published a status report on sustainable heating provision in German, which describes heating supply technologies, the heating market and ways in which this market might develop in the future.
Grid connected heating supply systems is an important factor in achieving national and global climate protection. A study on heating provision from heating networks – suggestions for local authorities and other stakeholders in German explains how local authorities can become actively involved in this by expanding their local and district heating supply. It also contains good examples, positive experiences, links and checklists that are useful for launching new activities.
During a workshop on research ideas for heating networks held in November 2007, experts from research institutes, associations and industry discussed research needs, possibilities for expanding heating systems, new methodological approaches to developing and using new systems, and good technical examples. The Federal Environment Agency published the results of the discussion in its background paper on research needs for heating networks PDF / 71 KB, in German.
The Federal Environment Agency is also conducting studies on new technologies within the energy industry, in order to assess their environmental benefits and feasibility in practice.
Radiant patio heaters, also commonly called mushroom heaters, have attracted a lot of attention in the public debate on climate change. Read in this background paper in German how critical a view should be taken of radiant patio heaters from a climate protection perspective. Outdoor heating wastes energy, of whose value we are increasingly aware today.
Electric heat pumps are becoming increasingly popular and their sales figures are rising. But what kind of environmental and energy balance do electric heat pumps have? To look at these questions, the Federal Environment Agency has produced a position paper on how the environmental balance of electric heat pumps compares with other heating systems in German.
A study commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency in 2005 examined the conditions and success factors for more widespread use of fuel cells in households and industry. The report on fuel cells in the stationary energy supply in German compares their efficiency with small combined heat and power units based on combustion engines. It comes to the conclusion that, although fuel cells are a very promising option for energy provision in the future, combustion engines must still be seen as more advantageous from an economic point of view.
Heating with electricity causes more greenhouse gases than necessary. In 2004, the total amount of electricity used for space heating and electric hot water systems was 14% of total electricity consumption. Every 25th home in Germany is heated by electricity. Information on reasons for replacing climate damaging electric heating systems and on the cost effectiveness of replacing storage heaters can be found at the Federal Environment Ministry in German.
The aim of using CCS technology is to reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. CO2 capture and storage is no panacea in climate protection; it is at most a transitional technology which in addition will not be available until the medium term. In a background paper UBA has formulated requirements for safe and environmentally sound CO2 capture, transport and underground storage.
In 2006, the UBA published a study and position paper on CCS technology: full study in German, summary in English. The UBA position paper in German, summary in German and English examines the potential and impact on the environment and comes to the conclusion that CO2 capture and storage is merely a transitional technology.
The Federal Office for Radiation Protection is responsible for aspects of nuclear power relevant to radiation protection. The Federal Environment Agency is concerned with atomic energy within the context of its work on climate protection and on developing energy systems that will foster sustainability.
The Act on the Structured Phase-Out of the Utilisation of Nuclear Energy for the Commercial Generation of Electricity of 22 April 2002 created a new framework for the use of atomic energy in Germany. In 2000, the legislator decided that the risk associated with operating nuclear power stations is only justifiable for a limited period. Prior to the amendment to the Atomic Energy Act, nuclear power plants in Germany - unlike those in other countries - were licensed to operate for an unlimited period. Under the amendment, the new purpose of the Atomic Energy Act is structured phase-out instead of promotion of nuclear energy. For that reason, the operating life of Germany's nuclear power plants has been limited to an average of 32 years after commissioning.
The arguments against the use of atomic energy are many and varied. They can be classed under the following four stages along the fuel chain:
Each of these areas is inherently hazardous for the environment and human health. Uranium mining increases levels of uranium and radium in water bodies and sediments. Radioactive dust and radon gas are hazardous to workers and the local population living near uranium mines. The discussion of the operational risks of nuclear power stations is concerned, on the one hand, with accident prevention, and, on the other hand, with the question of what level of hazard is associated with a nuclear facility under normal operating conditions. A study on cancer in children published in December 2007 added new aspects to the discussion. The study considers that there is a strong indication of a causal link between living near nuclear power stations and the risk to children under five of cancer and leukaemia; however, the study does not believe that there is proof that this is the case. Detailed information both on the study itself and on how a panel of experts evaluated it can be found at the Federal Office for Radiation Protection. With regard to accident prevention, we would point to the accidents in various nuclear power stations other than Chernobyl (Forsmark, Brunsbüttel) that have been the subject of extensive discussion in the media in recent years. The unresolved final storage question is one of the problems connected with using atomic energy that is discussed most frequently. What is not the subject of such frequent discussion, but is nevertheless associated with what is referred to as “civilian use of nuclear energy,” is the military use of radioactive materials. In this context “classic” atom bombs must be mentioned along with the danger of attacks on nuclear power stations and the use of depleted uranium to make munitions.
The above-mentioned points speak for themselves. They come down clearly on the side of not using nuclear energy. In an energy system that is moving towards sustainability based on renewable energies, it must be pointed out that, since their output is difficult to adjust, atomic power stations are not well suited to being a flexible complement to facilities that fluctuate in the amount of electricity they feed into the grid.
The fact that it poses a hazard to the environment and human health automatically means that the Federal Environment Agency rejects the use of nuclear energy. What is more, we do not need it to ensure climate protection and supply security: if we simultaneously save electricity, promote the expansion of combined heat and power generation on the basis of natural gas and biomass, make greater use of renewable energies and improve the efficiency of our existing portfolio of power stations, we do not need nuclear energy and its contribution to electricity generation and will be able to achieve our climate protection targets without it.
Further information on the topic of atomic energy, nuclear energy, and nuclear safety is available at the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, on the website of the Commission on Radiological Protection and at the Federal Environment Ministry.
To counter climate change, Germany has made a commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent in the 2008 to 2012 period compared with 1990. The coordination and implementation of many concrete climate protection measures can only take place at local level. Local authorities can, and therefore must, do their part to help protect the climate.
A study funded by the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency flags up effective measures using Munich as an example. You can read the findings of the study in the brochure on climate protection at local authority level – strategies for halving CO2 emissions taking the city of Munich as an example in German