A WWF prescription for greening Germany

German greenhouse gas emissions can be cut by 95 per cent by 2050 without excessive costs, a new WWF report claims.

WWF in Germany has commissioned a report on how to cut German greenhouse gas emissions by 95 per cent by the year 2050 and 41 per cent by 2020 in an affordable way. The results are striking, not least because Germany is a relatively difficult country to transform.

The ‘Blueprint Germany’ report was prepared by Prognos, Öko-Institut and Dr. Ziesing on behalf of WWF and published late 2009.

The target is a 95-per-cent reduction by 2050 from 1990, with a 41-per-cent cut by 2020. This is in its turn deduced from the 2 degrees target. Table 1 shows targets for an innovation scenario, compared with a reference scenario, which roughly represents German official goals and policy. The Blueprint scenario is almost the same as the innovation scenario until 2040, but is more demanding for 2050.

The 533-page report, is not easy to grasp, but there is a summary in English. The main message is that in order to achieve the final 2050 goal (call it sustainability), deep cuts have to be made by 2020. The year 2020 is also much more important from a political and diplomatic perspective.

The WWF study keeps carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a limited option open for a more distant future, but assumes that it will not cut any CO2 by 2020.

There are two fundamentally different ways of making scenarios. One is the top-down approach, which uses macroeconomic entities with input from historical econometrics. The other, which the WWF study uses, is the bottom-up approach, which collates trends in the energy use of fridges, lamps, electricity generators, cars etc. Those so inclined can find a wealth of information here.

Table 2 shows what technology can achieve with a certain amount of organisation and political will.

Germany has a number of disadvantages compared to much of the world. It is densely populated, which means limited space for growing biomass. It has limited hydropower resources. Solar resource are also limited. Germany is a world leader in wind power with approx. 40 TWh/year, but much of Germany is not very windy, the room for expansion onshore is limited, and this figure rises to no more than 67 TWh by 2050 in the innovation scenario. With a modern industry and an aging population, new construction will not amount to much. Brand new super-efficient buildings, and pulling down old inefficient buildings will not be less of a solution than in say China and the USA.

So if it can be done in Germany, it can be done next to anywhere.
The WWF study does not take the easy way out. Nuclear power is phased out in the 2020s – as indeed looks increasingly likely, with the CDU Minister of Environment Norbert Röttgen sticking to the nuclear phaseout of the previous governments. Carbon capture is not credited much, not at all in some scenarios. And there is no rapid phase-out of coal and lignite for electricity. Coal power is not completely eliminated until after 2040.

The framework of assumptions implies no austerity. GDP grows by about a third from 2005 to 2050, while the population decreases from 82 to 72 million. Passenger transport remains the same, and the living space increases moderately, both as per capita. The structural change is undramatic: industry grows 20 per cent, while the services sector grows 46 per cent. The price of oil increases from $54 per barrel in 2005 to 100 in 2020, and 210 in 2050. Obviously a high oil price assumption makes it easier to cut emissions, but the spot price is now about $85.

So how do they do it? Technology is a big part, for example:
New materials: energy efficient materials, which avoid metals in buildings and cars.

  • High-performance thermal insulation, which can be easily and extensively used in existing buildings.
  • Reactive window coatings that enable considerable savings in room heating in winter, and reductions in radiation exposure in summer.
  • New building materials based on plastic and composite materials.
  • Process optimisation and optimisation of building management.
  • Organic solar cells.
  • Grid optimisation and demand side management to balance out peak loads.

About half the cut for 2020 comes from efficiency gains: efficient buildings, electricity appliances and in industry.

Another 30 per cent comes from more renewables. Onshore wind energy reaches its maximum, 100 TWh by 2020 (27 TWh in 2005, about 40 presently), but offshore wind at about 40 TWh in 2020 continues to grow later. Photovoltaics increase to about 15 TWh by 2020 (6.2 TWh in 2009), and increase slowly after that. Electricity from biomass increases from 12 TWh in 2005 (no data for 2009) to some 45 TWh in 2020, and then declines.

  2005 2020 2030 2040 2050
Reference scenario -14 -26 -35 -40 -45
Innovation scenario -14 -41 -63 -77 -87
Blueprint scenario   -41 -63 -80 -95

Table 1: Reduction of German GHG emissions from 1990 (per cent)

  2005 2020 2030 2050
Nuclear 151 30 0 0
Hard coal        128 129 68 0
Lignite 152 86 50 0
Natural gas 67 49 47 12
Oil and other 18 0 0 0
Storage 7 16 24 55
Hydro 20 24 25 25
Wind onshore 27 54 58 67
Wind offshore 0 34 84 142
Photovoltaics 1 16 22 28
Biomass 12 46 45 41
Geothermal 0 2 6 36
Sum 583 485 428 405

Table 2: Net power supply in TWh, innovation scenario without CCS.

The remaining 20 per cent comes from diverse measures to reduce non-CO2 greenhouses gases in industry and agriculture, from the coal-to-gas fuel shift etc.

No importing of electricity is assumed by 2020, but later cuts imply electricity imports to a maximum of 48 TWh.

By 2020, electricity consumption is cut by 17 per cent and by 2050 it is cut by 35 per cent.

The emissions cut is mainly from oil and gas heating for all buildings, through improved efficiency and more solar heating and heat pumps. The use of less lignite for power also contributes, though hard coal use is projected to grow by 2020, and decrease only later. This is because the increasing share of intermittent renewables creates a need for more energy storage and balancing. The actual storage options are limited in the mid-term perspective, but existing hydro pumping stations can be used more. Balancing can, so far, be achieved through the import/export of electricity and by using gas power stations more for peak and reserve supply. Demand side flexibility will also have to be exploited much more by using innovative technology and by more efficient markets and price signals to shift the use of electricity by a split second, a few hours or – very seldom – a week.

Biomass electricity has no intermittency problem, but biomass is needed even more for vehicle fuels, so biomass electricity is projected to first grow, and then decline.

The biomass balance is one of the critical factors in the long-term scenarios, so the study recommends strong sustainability criteria for any imported biomass.

In the transport sector, the emissions cut (15 per cent from 2005 to 2020) is achieved through improved efficiency and by second-generation bio-diesel. In the longer term hybrid and electric vehicles will take over.

It takes a lot of policy to achieve the targeted cuts. For example:

  • Stricter new building standards with a maximum annual energy consumption value for space heating of 20 kWh per m2 effective from 2015, of 10 kWh per m2 starting 2020 and the zero-energy or plus-energy house standard from 2025 onwards.
  • Consistently strict consumption limits for all electric appliances according to the top-runner principle (consumption values of the best appliances as minimum standards to be achieved by the next generation of appliances within five years).

One problem with the WWF scenario, and most other scenarios, is that it postulates a smooth gradual transition without lifestyle changes. This is not the way the world works. Think of the oil crises in the 1970s, of the collapse of the Soviet Union with the subsequent 40 per cent plunge in CO2 emissions in the whole eastern bloc. And think of the coming oil production peak.

The WWF finds that it takes more than technology and no-regret to achieve a 95-per-cent cut by 2050, so they add biomass CCS, and CCS as a way to cut process emissions from for example pig-iron production, and increase the use of biofuel in aviation.
The latter will add to the biomass constraint. Another way to deal with the problem would be a minor decrease in transport, which in fact took place almost everywhere in 2009.

As for biomass CCS, its economics are questionable to say the least, as is the notion that pig-iron based on ore and coal is viable for another 40 years.

The German Blueprint has included land use change (LULUCF), which actually makes the exercise even harder, as deforestation is assumed to slightly exceed afforestation. Excluding LULUCF, the 95-per-cent cut is actually 96 per cent.

Now that the WWF has produced a credible long-term vision, it should produce a new summary focusing on 2020, with fewer graphs and more tables, so as to make the results more accessible and transparent.

Fredrik Lundberg

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