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Electricity generation in Germany - renewables are changing the system

July 1, 2017 - Germany leads Europe in electricity generation. Because of its geographical position in the heart of Europe, Germany also functions as a hub for electricity flows in the networked European electricity system. But how is electricity being generated in Germany right now? Information on current figures is provided by the data that the SMARD website publishes daily.

Renewables are shaping the system.

Renewables are shaping the system. On average, feed-in from renewables now covers over 30% of the demand for electricity and, at peak times, it can even cover more than 80%.
© istock.com/Alan Hill

Electricity generation in Germany is currently based on a broad mix of different energy sources. Since the Renewable Energy Sources Act (RES Act) came into force in 2000, the share of each individual energy source has changed significantly. Nowadays more than a third of our electricity comes from wind, sun, hydro or biomass. Renewables are already our most important source of electricity today. Conventional generation plants bear the remaining burden to ensure electricity demand can be fully met at all times. Further expansion of renewables – which will account for at least 80% of electricity consumption  by 2050 – is a central pillar of the energy transition. In our future electricity system, non-regulatable power plants will no longer be used to cover demand. Instead, flexible producers, flexible consumers and storage facilities will react to the fluctuating supply of wind and solar energy.

Data on SMARD paints a picture of how the energy transition is progressing, with information on the volume of electricity generated and the composition of the energy mix divided according to the most important energy sources from 2015. You can see the energy mix on the map for each hour and you can also look up the data for a specific region.

At peak times, renewables already account for 80% of total electricity consumption. This, for instance, was the case this year on 7 June, when renewable energies at times covered more than 82% of total electricity demand in Germany. On top of this, their average share of the electricity mix is continuously increasing. In May 2017, renewables accounted for 38.6% of electricity generated. Wind and solar energy made up the bulk of the share, at 14.2% and 12.8% respectively. These numbers show that our energy supply is on the path to carbon-free generation.

This graph shows the share of renewables on 7 June 2017. The share of renewables was more than 82% between 2pm and 3pm.

Wind, solar, water and biomass - renewables on the rise

Wind energy plays a major role in the expansion of renewables. Wind now makes up more than 12% of electricity generation in Germany. Some 28,000 wind turbines generated around 77 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in Germany in 2016. Germany has the highest installed capacity for wind in Europe with just under 50,000 megawatts in 2016, and is also the leader in Europe in terms of new installations. Wind energy is mainly generated in the windy north, on the coast and increasingly at offshore wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas. In terms of onshore wind generation, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony are the federal states with the most capacity, followed by Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia. An overview of where the installations are distributed around Germany can be found in the German electricity market section of the SMARD website.

In addition to wind energy, the expansion of photovoltaic (PV) systems in Germany is booming. Solar generation has grown considerably since 2005, even though PV systems played a virtually irrelevant role in the electricity mix when EEG payments were first introduced. Thanks to technological improvements and cuts in costs, new PV systems are among the most affordable renewable energy technologies today. In 2016, PV installations produced just under 6% of all electricity in Germany. At more than 41,000 megawatts, photovoltaic installed generating capacity is second only to wind energy. PV installations produce the most electricity when the sun is at its highest point and therefore shines the brightest, that is at noon when skies are clear. As consumption also increases at this time of day, photovoltaic installations make an important contribution to covering the midday peak. Solar power is mainly produced in southern Germany, among other reasons due to the higher levels of solar radiation there - every fourth PV system in Germany is found in Bavaria.

Biomass is also making an important contribution to the energy transition. Biomass can be put to a wide number of energy uses, ranging from fuel in cars, heating in households and industry, to power generation. The share that biomass accounts for in gross electricity generation has grown in recent years. In 2016, it was seven percent with an installed capacity of more than 7,000 megawatts. This is attributed to the intense use of generating facilities that rely on storable energy sources. At six percent, biomass energy constitutes the second largest form of renewable generation - ahead of PV. Since usable biomass potential is limited and its exploitation is often associated with high costs, in future it should be used specifically where it brings the greatest benefit to the energy system. In terms of its use to generate electricity, biomass from waste and residuals should essentially be used flexibly to complement other sources and to prevent its share in the mix from ever increasing.

Historical renewable energy developments

Developments in renewables show that its role in generation is becoming increasingly relevant. Generation from renewables increased almost tenfold between 1990 and 2016.
Data source: BMWi on the basis of the Working Group on Renewable Energy Statistics (AGEE-Stat)

Conventional energy sources

Conventional sources of generation continue to play an important role in the electricity mix. Today, they still account for two thirds of electricity generated in Germany. During the energy transition, the use of fossil fuels in Germany’s power plant portfolio will decline significantly as electricity will be increasingly generated by renewables.

Hard coal and lignite account for the largest share of conventional energy generation. Around 40% of the electricity generated in 2016 came from coal. While lignite-fired power plants have consistently accounted for around 23% to 26% of gross electricity generation for the past 15 years, hard coal power generation has been in decline since 2000. Today, hard coal’s share of the German electricity mix is only 17%. The role of coal, and lignite in particular, will become increasingly smaller in the future energy mix, not least because of their high greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural gas is the fossil energy source with the lowest carbon emissions. It therefore takes on the role of a bridging technology in the transition to a sustainable electricity mix. Especially at peak times, gas-fired power plants play a role in safeguarding the supply of electricity. With a generation capacity of 28,000 megawatts, gas-fired power plants accounted for just over 12% of electricity generation in 2016.

With the energy transition, Germany has taken the decision to phase out nuclear power generation. Nuclear power’s share of generation fell from just under 30% in 2000 to just over 13% sixteen years later. There are currently eight nuclear power plants still in operation with an output of 11,000 megawatts. These plants will be gradually shut down by 2022.

The future of power generation - information on SMARD

The steady expansion of renewables, the decision to phase out nuclear generation and the further reduction in carbon emissions will continue to bring lasting changes to the composition of the electricity mix. The German federal government's goal is to increase the proportion of renewables to between 40% and 45% of electricity consumed by 2025 and 55% to 60% by 2035.

With the 2014 and 2017 amendments to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (RES Act), as well as the new Electricity Market Act (Strommarktgesetz), the legislator has adopted important reforms aimed at increasing competition, synchronising expansion in the network and renewables, and increasing cost efficiency. The 2014 RES Act set a binding expansion corridor for renewable energies, focused on payments for onshore wind and solar energy - which are cost-effective technologies - and introduced a direct selling obligation. In addition, the conversion of the payment scheme to a competitive bidding system was set up. Since the beginning of 2017, payments for renewable electricity in auctions have been determined competitively on the market and are no longer stipulated by the state. The expansion of infrastructure can therefore be better managed on the basis of the volume of electricity auctioned. The Electricity Market Act laid the foundation for an electricity market 2.0 that will integrate growing shares of renewables and foster competition with flexible generation, flexible demand and storage facilities. The optimised electricity market 2.0 ensures that electricity supply in Germany remains cost-effective and reliable even with increasing volumes of wind and solar power.

In future, the Bundesnetzagentur will publish regular reports on current developments in the electricity mix on SMARD, letting you track the conversion of our electricity supply system to one dominated to a great extent by renewables. In the section Market data visuals users can find information on the electricity market and the electricity mix in Germany. Every user can create, save and share graphs according to their needs. SMARD provides data on installed generating capacity and actual and projected electricity generation and electricity consumption. Data that is up-to-date, clear and presented according to your individual Preference.