Sunday, October 19, 2014

would you could you with a tree? energiewende con'd

Reporters on the status of Germany's energy transition have been presenting some optimistic figures recently.
Renewables Internationale was one outlet noting figures for the first nine months of 2013, produced by Fraunhofer ISE, indicating "non-hydro renewables the number one power source in Germany for the first time."

Graphic from Fraunhofer ISE (page 6)
The groupings required to make that statement are interesting: renewables include the infrequently discussed "Biomass" without which the "non-hydro" renewables would not beat either lignite of coal - or uranium/nuclear.

Not only is generation from "biomass"the highest of the renewables for the first three quarters of 2014, it also has the most growth over the same period in 2013.  Biomass outgrowing wind is nothing new in Germany; between 2002 (when the nuclear phase-out first became policy) and 2013, generation from wind turbines more than tripled while the growth rate in generation from biomass almost tripled the growth  rate in wind (increasing over 900%). source - AGEB
Biomass is the family member that friends of the family don't want to discuss. 
Will Boisvert's Harmonic Destruction: How Greens Justify Bionenergy's Assault on Nature might explain why, as may the Life Cycle Impacts of Biomass Electricity in 2020 report, prepared for the U.K.'s Department of Climate Change, by David McKay. It is clear the carbon accounting on biomass is poor, and having detrimental effects on multiple environments - as another example see Audubon's Why U.S. Forests Are Fueling Europe.

The phrase, and grouping, "non-hydro renewables" is a ridiculous one. Biomass has similar limitations to hydro - if the resource is available (depending on locale), and exploited, there is an environmental cost. Unlike most hydro, there is a very real cost of fuel. In some of my own reporting I group "combustibles" - which makes a lot more sense in that thermal generation can be replaced with thermal generation more sensibly than variable intermittent wind and solar generators, albeit with a greater cost.

The production from wind turbines is usually disproportionately weighted to the end of the year in Germany, but should 2014 end with more generation from biomass than wind, it would be the first time since 1991.
That won't surprise everybody. The Conversation has an article on Germany's green energy gamble:
...the German decision to live without nuclear has perplexed many observers. To the great amusement of the participants at a business conference in Berlin in 2010, Vladimir Putin offered the Germans firewood from Siberia to heat the country once its nuclear power stations had been switched off. Clearly the energiewende has not exactly impressed the Russians.
Russia is unlikely to feel threatened that Germany will lose it's appetite for Russian gas while Germany is harvesting wood for fuel.

Clearly Germany's accounting of carbon emissions will be increasingly suspect as the use of the increasingly suspect biomass continues, and nuclear output resumes it's decline. The last figure I've seen for the intensity of Germany's electricity generation was 510 g of CO2/kWh (CIPK) in 2013. Ontario - my province - was shown at 110 grams in 2012, but both coal and gas use were down sharply in 2013 and the same is true again in 2014. There isn't a biomass grey area in Ontario's real emissions reductions.

In Ontario, nuclear power generation is again at a high - maybe as high as it's been in 2 decades, but probably it's highest production levels ever.
In Germany, nuclear power generation over the first nine months of 2014 is only slightly down from 2013, but that's as low as it has been in decades. It is lower, if Fraunhofer's numbers are believed, than Ontario's production over the first nine months of 2014.

While Germany's emissions may decline slightly depending on accounting in the first months' they'll likely end 2014 near a CPIK level of 500, while Ontario's is likely to be around one-tenth of that.


  1. Let's not forget the private homeowners experiencing "energy poverty" in Germany taking to cutting down trees in the forests to reduce their energy usage. I've yet to see trees that grow faster than they burn.

  2. cutting up trees for firewood is not something I'm going to touch - at least not until May!

  3. It's a naiveté that many urban dwellers seem to share. Most don't understand it takes 30 -40 years for one hardwood tree to grow a face cord of wood which provides 2 weeks of heat for one house.