2019 record: Electricity production from renewable sources is now greater than coal

Historic low in wind power expansion does slow future growth

Bild zu Windkraftanlagen als Alternative für die Energieerzeugung im Kaliningrader GebietClick to enlarge
Energy production with wind power
Source: Stephen Meese/istockphoto

Power production from renewable sources energy grew significantly by eight percent in 2019 and now covers 42 percent of power consumption (2018: 37.8%). These are the results of a preliminary evaluation by the working group on renewable energy statistics (AGEE-Stat) at the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). Nearly 243 billion kilowatt hours of electricity were generated from renewable sources in 2019. It was the first year in which the share of electricity from renewable energy was greater than that of all the lignite and hard coal power plants together. “This positive development was favoured by a number of high wind months. However, this must not belie the current crisis in the expansion of onshore wind energy. In fact, we are experiencing a historic low which will hamper the future growth of wind power significantly,” said UBA President Maria Krautzberger.

The Federal Network Agency reported that only about a net 160 wind turbines were added in Germany through November 2019. Even when taking into account repowering activity – that is, replacing older installations with more efficient new ones – installed capacity increased by a mere 618 megawatts (MW), or about one fourth of the planned expansion of capacity. This contrasts with the roughly 20,000 wind power plants installed in Germany since 2000 with a capacity of approximately 48,000 MW – an average of about 1,100 installations per year with a capacity of over 2,500 MW.

Total wind power generated onshore and offshore amounted to some 126 billion kWh in 2019, or 15 percent more power than in the year before (110 bn kWh). Onshore wind power increased by 13 percent (from 90 bn kWh to nearly 102 bn kWh), and offshore wind power increased by more than 26 percent (to 25 bn kWh).

Power production from photovoltaic installations rose slightly compared to the previous year, to nearly 47 bn kWh of electricity, or about 2% more than in the year before. Hydropower accounted for about 19 bn kWh in 2019, 4% above the level of the very dry previous year with a relatively low hydropower output (2018). Preliminary data indicate that biomass electricity generation and biowaste produced a total 50 bn kWh, slightly below the level of the year before.

The strong growth in power generation contrasts with a rather mixed picture as concerns new construction of further capacities. Although the data claim that new-build photovoltaic capacity rose to about 3,600 MW and thus surpasses the figure for the previous year (2,888 MW), new onshore installations are likely to be at their lowest level in nearly 20 years. In addition to repowering – the replacement of older installations with more efficient new ones – net new capacity for 2019 is currently estimated to be about 700 MW. This is a marginal increase of total installed capacity of about 1% (from 52.6 GW in 2018 to 53.3 GW in 2019). Weather-related fluctuations in power production due either to high-wind or low-wind years can mask this addition to capacity, making it likely that the annual amount of onshore wind-powered electricity will decrease in the medium term if the increase in capacity does not pick up speed.

Against this background, the planned expansion of offshore wind energy does not provide sufficient compensation even if the target of 6.5 GW total installed capacity by 2020 prescribed by the Renewable Energy Sources Act has already been reached. Added offshore capacity for 2019 is expected to be 1,100 MW, which means an increase of total installed offshore capacity to over 7,500 MW.

As in previous years, the use of renewables in the heating and transport sectors was less remarkable. In the heating sector, the somewhat cooler weather conditions and the increased use of solid biomass are likely to result in a slight rise in the renewables share. In the transport sector, the initial data point to a drop in the use of biofuels. The rising share of renewable electricity used in rail and road transport is the only factor ensuring that the overall share of renewable energy in the transport sector did not drop below the previous year’s level.

UBA President Maria Krautzberger said, “Every sector must step up their efforts to achieve our climate change targets and energy goals by 2030 and 2050. This is particularly the case if increasing sector coupling is to ensure more use of renewable power in the transport sector and heating market. This will take an ambitious expansion of power generation capacity in the electricity supply sector.”

Further information:

The working group on renewable energy statistics (AGEE-Stat) is mandated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to track the use of renewable energy. A preliminary record of renewable energy development in the electricity supply sector was drawn up based on available data.

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