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Energy consumption is down due to the pandemic

As forecast by the Working Group on Energy Balances (AG Energiebilanzen) on the basis of current calculations for the first half of the year, energy consumption in Germany is likely to decline by around 7 % this year and could, in unfavourable conditions, even fall by up to 12 % (Figure 1). If the country enjoys a fast and uninterrupted recovery from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Working Group on Energy Balances is anticipating a single-digit percentage drop in consumption for the year as a whole. However, if the country enters into another period of lockdown, a double-digit reduction in consumption over the previous year is certainly possible.

Fig. 1. Sharp decline in energy consumption due to the coronavirus pandemic. Source: AGEB

Standing at 5,961 PJ or 203.5 Mtce after the first six months of the year, total energy consumption is 8.8 % below the same period in the previous year. The macroeconomic effects of the coronavirus pandemic are primarily responsible for the downward trend in consumption. The rate of change in terms of energy consumption was significantly higher than the drop in overall macroeconomic performance, which came in at 6.6 %. Even the weather conditions, which were relatively mild compared to the previous year, served to slow consumption slightly.

The decline in energy consumption is affecting all fossil fuels. However, almost two thirds of the decline in consumption of 575 PJ or 19.6 5 Mtce could be attributed to coal, meaning that the Working Group on Energy Balances is anticipating a pronounced drop in energy-related CO2 emissions of more than 13 % over 2019 for the first half of the year. In terms of energy-related CO2 emissions, the Working Group on Energy Balances is anticipating a decrease in the range from 10 % to 17 % for the year as a whole.

Mineral oil consumption decreased by a total of 6.7 % in the first half of 2020. Indeed, all fuels suffered severe declines in terms of both, sales and consumption. Petrol fuels fell by 13.5 %, while diesel dropped by 8.6 %. The drastic reduction in air traffic led to a 46 % reduction in sales of aviation fuel. Only heating oil actually enjoyed an increase in sales, rising by around 28 %. Consumers evidently used the low prices to stock up ready for the cold season.

Natural gas consumption fell by a total of 4.6 % as a result of the milder weather in the first two months of the year and the slightly reduced use of natural gas in various industrial sectors. The power station sector, on the other hand, actually recorded increased sales.

Consumption of coal declined by just under 25 % in the first half of 2020. In terms of coal usage for generating power and heat at power stations, the drop was almost 30 %. This development can primarily be attributed to the 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 coke and coal in the steel industry declined by around 19 % due to the economic situation.

In the first six months of 2020, consumption of lignite fell by more than 35.5 %. This significant drop has three main causes: the dramatic increase in electricity production from renewable energies, the transitioning of further lignite power generation blocks to standby mode for emergency reserve power and – particularly in the second quarter – the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on both, the national and European electricity market.

Due to the planned shutdown of the Philippsburg power station at the end of 2019, nuclear energy saw a decrease in electricity production of approximately 13 %.

By contrast, the contribution of renewable energies to total energy consumption rose by 3 % overall in the first half of 2020. Wind and solar power each enjoyed an increase of 10 % thanks to favourable weather conditions. Biomass saw a decrease of 1 %, while hydroelectric power stations supplied 1 % more electricity.

Low power consumption (also in neighbouring countries), as well as historically low natural gas prices led to significant shifts in the European electricity generation structure. Germany’s negative electricity exchange balance with its neighbouring states was therefore significantly lower in the first half of 2020 than in the first six months of the previous year. Not only did the amount of electricity flowing into Germany from other countries increase significantly, exports from Germany to neighbouring states also declined. (AGEB/Si.)