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    German Gas Declines, Lignite Holds its Ground


As overall German energy use declines this year - and with it oil, gas, coal and overall CO2 emissions - lignite (brown coal) is clinging on.

by: Mark Smedley

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German Gas Declines, Lignite Holds its Ground

Germany’s energy consumption will be almost 5% lower this year than in 2017, with reduced use of all fossil fuels including gas, the think-tank AG Energiebilanzen (AGEB) forecast this week. Its calculation is based on its estimates for the first nine months of this year. 

German total energy demand fell by 5.3% to 9,423 petajoules (PJ) in that period, it said. Oil, gas and coal/lignite were all lower whereas renewables and nuclear increased, combining to produce an estimated decline of about 7% in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during the nine-month period. Higher prices and milder weather – except February and March 2018 when gas use soared in the freezing conditions – underpinned the lower demand.

Gas consumption overall was 7.2% lower in the period, oil use fell by 7.4% on lower diesel and heating oil sales, while hard coal use plunged by 12.8%.

But the decline for lignite (brown coal) was only 1.9%. So wedded are some German generators to using lignite in power plants that one, RWE, is implementing plans to fell ancient woodland to create new opencast mining – even as a government commission is determining whether to call a halt to coal and lignite's use in powering the nation. On October 5 RWE succeeded in overturning an injunction, enabling it to resume its felling plans and, in the month since, police near Aachen have arrested nearly 200 environmental protesters attempting to save the Hambach forest.  

Providing more context on gas, industry-academic thinktank AGEB said consumption fell by 7.2% to 60.8bn m3 (653.7 terawatt-hours of gas), with inland production, down 14.9% year on year, accounting for just 4.2bn m3. Imports including some transit gas were 120.6bn m3, while exports (also including some transit gas) were 60.6bn m3. German statistics as yet are unclear about transit gas, but a good proportion of the export/transit volume is understood to go to Ukraine. Net withdrawal from German storage in the nine-month period was 3.4bn m3.

Oil remained Germany’s largest energy source at 34.3% (down from 35.1% in 9M2017), while gas also declined to 22.5% (from 23%), with hard coal retreating to 10.4% (11.3%). But lignite increased to 11.8% (from 11.4%). Renewables increased by 1.1 percentage points to 13.9%, while nuclear surprisingly increased to 6.5% (from 5.9%) - given that all German reactors by law must close no later than 2022. Net electricity imports accounted for 0.4% (that leaves 0.2% unaccounted, due to rounding of figures). 

AGEB estimates that full year 2018 total primary energy consumption will be 12,900 PJ – their lowest for over 20 years - down from 13,563 PJ actual in 2017, and a peak of 14,837 PJ in 2006.