Claudia Kemfert – Germany does not need any new natural gas infrastructure

Germany does not need Nordstream II or LNG. In fact it cannot reach its climate targets if it does not phase out natural gas by 2038

Claudia Kemfert is an  economics expert in the areas of energy research and environmental protection. She is a Professor of Energy Economics and Sustainability at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. She heads the Energy, Transportation, and Environment department at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin)

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The German energy transition is increasingly in the international spotlight. Today, Germany is on the threshold of completing the phase-out of nuclear power. The last six reactors will be taken off the grid in the next two years. This decision is the right one; nuclear energy is enormously expensive, inefficient, inflexible, risky and conflict-ridden – also because of the danger of the military use of nuclear weapons. Germany decided 20 years ago to phase out nuclear energy. This decision was preceded by decades of heated discussions, ongoing civil protests and large-scale social conflicts. Nuclear power plants are a risky technology that harbours potential dangers of environmental and health damage. The alleged renaissance of nuclear energy is a myth. Only a few countries worldwide are building new nuclear power plants. They are all countries that make construction possible through state subsidies. Moreover, there is often little democratic participation. Nuclear energy is often misused to secure power and geopolitical strength. Nuclear energy has been completely replaced by renewable energies.

And Germany has decided to end the use of coal, all coal-fired power plants will be shut down by 2038, the structural change in the affected regions will be accompanied financially. If the climate goals are to be seriously met, greenhouse gas emissions must fall rapidly. This means that by the same time, no more fossil natural gas may be used by 2038. Germany therefore does not need any new natural gas infrastructure, neither the Northstream II pipeline nor even LNG terminals; the existing infrastructure is quite sufficient.

The country is therefore in the process of converting to a full supply of renewable energies – their share of electricity generation is currently just under 50 percent. This has been achieved because Germany started promoting renewable energies 20 years ago. Today, costs are low, renewable energies are competitive, can be used everywhere, are low-risk and cannot be exploited for military purposes. Or the other way around: renewable energies are a peace technology, strengthen resilience and make us independent of external shocks.

Future energy consumption will mainly be electric, with only a few exceptions. Electricity is the new oil. If global warming is to be limited to below 2 degrees, global greenhouse gas emissions must fall to zero as quickly as possible. Zero, not net zero. Renewable energy is the only energy that meets all the requirements: Emission-free, low-risk, available everywhere and usable today, decentralised and cost-effective. The current nuclear-fossil energy system is not compatible with climate goals, is risky, polluting and expensive.

What we need is a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable WWS (Wind, Water, Sunlight) energy and storage for everything while also addressing non-energy emissions. This transition involves electrification of most everything – vehicles; building heating and cooking; industrial processes – and providing the electricity entirely with wind, water and solar. We estimate that, due to the efficiency of electricity over combustion and other factors, such electrification will reduce worldwide energy needs over 50 %. Although overall energy requirements will decline, electricity requirements will be about 50% greater than today. Thus, more energy will be electricity. 

Green electricity must be used wherever possible: In the mobility sector by strengthening rail transport, public transport and individual transport. And in buildings with heat pumps in combination with consistent energy saving. Electricity first is the motto. Saving energy and eliminating energy waste is crucial.

There are only a few areas where electricity cannot be used directly: Heavy transport, outside of trolley trucks, where green hydrogen or synthetic fuels , i.e. fuels produced from green electricity will be used. Just as in shipping and air transport.

And heavy industry, especially the production of steel and metals, where coal CHP will have to be replaced. Green hydrogen will have to be used there, too

But it is important that the hydrogen is green, i.e. produced with green electricity, because all other colours are either too high in emissions (grey) or use unsafe processes such as carbon capture and thus environmental hazards, inefficiencies and high costs, or exclude high-risk and enormously expensive technologies such as nuclear.

Hydrogen has no role to play in the heating sector or in cars. Hydrogen must be produced with green electricity and loses 30 % of the energy during production alone. In use, it loses another 20 per cent, so that over 50 per cent of the energy is lost in production and use, and the efficiency is very low.

Hydrogen is not the new oil. Electricity is the new oil.

Green electricity is valuable and must be used immediately, everywhere it can be used. Hydrogen is the champagne of the energy transition, valuable and expensive and only something for special occasions.

Cars of the future will be electric. There will be less vehicles, but they will be smart, networked and autonomous. In the future, the focus will be less on the vehicle itself and more on mobility services. Electromobility and digitalisation are the key.

However, Germany is only at the beginning of an energy system transformation; fossil energies such as coal, oil and gas will be completely replaced by renewable energies in the coming decades. To achieve this, the speed of the expansion of renewable energies must be at least doubled and everything possible must be done to save energy. Sector coupling must be promoted, i.e. green electricity must be used everywhere possible. For example, more electromobility on roads and railways, especially by strengthening the infrastructure. It also makes sense to introduce an electric car quota for new cars. Buildings must be renovated more and use green electricity, and industry must be decarbonised. Any advantages for conventional energies must be removed and the framework conditions adjusted. Environmentally harmful subsidies must be completely abolished as soon as possible.

Germany therefore still has a long way to go, some kilometres of the marathon have been run. What is needed now is perseverance and determination. Only in this way will Germany succeed in really implementing the energy system transformation.

Renewable energies strengthen democracy, participation and prosperity. Nuclear energy creates the opposite. The energy transition, on the other hand, is a peace project. Thus, the best answer to the demands of climate protection towards a full decarbonisation of the economy is a full supply of renewable energies.

All countries worldwide are well advised to focus on a full supply of renewable energies. It is technically possible and economically worthwhile. The decisive factor is political will. Germany can show that it can be done.

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