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Energy consumption drops to historic low

In 2020 energy consumption in Germany fell 8.7 % compared with the previous year and reached an historic low at 11,691 PJ or 398.8 Mtce (Figure 1).

Fig. 1. Development of primary energy consumption in Germany in 2020 – changes in percent. // Bild 1. Entwicklung des Primärenergieverbrauchs 2020 in Deutschland – Veränderungen in Prozent. Source/Quelle: AGEB

Compared to 2006, the year with the previously highest energy consumption in Germany since the reunification, the decline is around 21 %, reports the German Working Group on Energy Balances (AG Energiebilanzen).

As a result of the declining consumption, as well as other shifts in the energy mix in favour of renewable energies and natural gas, the AG Energiebilanzen anticipates a decline of the energy-related CO2 emissions of around 80 M t. This corresponds to a decrease of approximately 12 % compared with the previous year.

The macroeconomic and sectoral effects of the coronavirus pandemic are primarily responsible for the significant downward trend in consumption. And on top of this there were long-term trends such as the further increase of energy efficiency, substitutions in the energy mix towards more renewable energies, as well as the comparatively mild weather conditions. Slight increases in consumption originate from the noticeable drop in energy prices during the course of the year. The dampening effect of the mild weather conditions on consumption was largely offset by stockpiling of light heating oil, according to an assessment by the AG Energiebilanzen.

There was a decline in the use of mineral oil in 2020 of 12.1 % to 3,965 PJ or 135.3 Mtce. Whereas the sales of petrol and diesel decreased slightly, the consumption of aviation fuel dropped by half. For light heating oil there were increases in sales of a good 5 % because many consumers used the low prices to replenish their stocks. The supplies of petroleum to the chemicals industry increased by around 3 %.

The consumption of natural gas dropped by 3.4 % in 2020 to 3,105 PJ or 106 Mtce. The main reason for the decrease in consumption is the drop in demand for natural gas from the industrial sectors, as well as trade, commerce and services, as a result of the corona pandemic. Whereas more natural gas was used for generating power and heat. In private households a slight increase in consumption is expected despite the comparatively milder temperatures.

In 2020 the use of coal was 18.3 % below the previous year’s value and peaked at 894 PJ or 30.5 Mtce. In terms of coal usage for generating power and heat at power stations, the drop was more than 26 %. This development can primarily be attributed to the reduction in power consumption, significantly higher amount of electricity supplied by wind power and photovoltaic systems, as well as greater use of natural gas for power generation. The use of coal in the steel industry fell by around 14 % compared with 2019 due to the weak demand for steel.

There was a decline in the use of lignite in 2020 of 18.2 % to 950 PJ or 32.4 Mtce. There are different reasons for this development. Additional power plant units were put on standby and due to the weather conditions the power supply from wind and photovoltaic systems increased. There were also unplanned power station outages, impacts of the corona pandemic on power consumption, as well as shifts in the competitive situation on the national and European power market due to low natural gas prices. Whereas in February to August the consumption of lignite was significantly below the respective months of the previous year, from September a notable recovery was recorded.

Due to the planned shutdown of the Philippsburg power station at the end of 2019, nuclear energy saw a 14.4 % decrease in electricity production in 2020.

The contribution made by renewable energies rose by 3 % overall to 1,962 PJ or 66.9 Mtce in 2020. The hydropower plants (without pump storage) supplied 5 % less power than in the previous year. In contrast, the contribution made by wind power increased 7 %. Solar energy rose by 9 %. There was only a small increase in the use of biomass of 1 %. The primary energy consumption from biogenic waste was 1 % lower than in the previous year.

The consumption of other energy sources – mainly non-biogenic municipal and industrial waste – fell by almost 15 % to 189 PJ or 6.4 Mtce.

In 2020 Germany’s negative electricity exchange balance with its neighbouring states was significantly lower than in the previous year at around 21 bn kWh. Not only did the amount of electricity flowing into Germany from other countries increase significantly, exports from Germany to neighbouring states also declined.

The proportions of the various energy sources in the national energy mix were further shifted in 2020 in comparison to the previous year (Figure 2).

Fig. 2. Structure of primary energy consumption in Germany in 2020. // Bild 2. Struktur des Primärenergieverbrauchs in Deutschland 2020. Source/Quelle: AGEB

By and large, fossil energy sources experienced a decline, meaning that the energy supply in Germany was able to further reduce its carbon intensity. However, it continues to be distinguished by a broad mix of energy. Oil and gas accounted for around 60 % of domestic energy consumption, while coal and lignite combined covered almost 16 % of consumption. The share of renewable energy increased to almost 17 %. (AGEB/Si.)