Amongst nations that play an active role in curbing carbon footprint, Germany is at its bleeding edge, setting itself aggressive emission goals to be met over the next few decades. Germany has reportedly spent $580 billion on building infrastructure for renewable energy sources and grid expansions – investment required to hit its 2020 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and energy consumption by 20% against the years 1990 and 2008 respectively.
Regardless, the humongous investment seems to have not borne the expected results. Germany is all set to miss its climate goals, as it has only managed to reduce emissions by 27.7% and energy consumption by a meager 3.9%, with the deadline in tow. Andreas Kuhlmann, chairman of dena, the German Energy Agency, spoke at the IAA 2018 about the issues that Germany needs to address to inch closer to the climate goals.
Kuhlmann contended that the overall debate is skewed towards emissions from passenger cars when the real issue is about the explosive growth of heavy-duty trucks, which have seen a 44% rise since 1990. “It is really a steep curve and the developments so far are not very promising. We had some closer looks on this situation at the German Energy Agency, together with some partners. What we saw is that depending on what kind of growth scenario you choose, you might at the end use 50-70% more energy just for transport,” he said.
Numbers reveal the true extent of energy consumption in German transport, and it sure does not look to be quenched by the renewable energy infrastructure that the country is laboring towards. Germany would require 4.67 tWh of electricity to power its transport – which incidentally is over five times the power drawn from renewable energy sources across all of Europe in 2016.
“DENA studies integrated energy transition, the study we did with 60 partners from different sectors – mobility, buildings, industry, and energy. We saw quite a bit of option for energy efficiency and for electrification, and that would help in maybe reducing the amount of energy until 2050, by about 50%, which is quite good,” said Kuhlmann. “But it is not good enough, because we have much more ambitious targets here. It really makes sense to have an intersectoral approach. So do not look only at the mobility sector but also look at the other sectors. If you go into hydrogen for example, what does it mean if other sectors go into hydrogen as well.”
The situation necessitates the industry to look at other alternatives, especially with powertrains and clean fuels. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are an option, since they are widely considered to reduce CO2 emissions when compared to diesel powertrains. But Kuhlmann was largely pessimistic in that regard, insisting that though introducing BEVs would be a commendable step, it would not be enough to meet the German 2030 emissions goals. Fuel cells are a possibility, but the technology is so early in the adoption curve that it might not have the means to create significant difference before 2030.
Of all the alternative energy sources, Kuhlmann was particularly positive about the potential of CNG, as it could be used efficiently for short distance transport and also because powertrains that run on CNG are commercially available. Amongst all European countries, the UK and Spain seem to have aggressively built out their CNG infrastructure, with countries like the Netherlands and France following suit. Germany is still waking up to CNG’s prospects, but is now addressing the solution by investing heavily into building the necessary infrastructure.
That apart, Kuhlmann argued on the importance of looking at the situation from a broader perspective. “There are many regions with many countries where people today depend on the oil and gas market. So what is their ambition for the upcoming decades?” he asked. “Oil and gas is a $4 trillion market, so we really have regional issues at the end. And with the global alliance for power fuels which we just started with big companies, we really want to focus on the technology – not only in mobility – but also for the other sectors.”
Dialogues need to be initiated with countries that could produce alternative clean fuels more cheaply, and create a conducive situation for importing the fuels into Europe. Kuhlmann concluded by saying that emissions reduction and energy optimization is a collaborative effort across all lines, and that there was no “miracle power fuel” that could play savior. He rejected the idea of electricity being the only solution, mentioning that electricity alone could not help reach emission goals.
“We need to have a close dialogue between politicians, the sector, the people, and also with the cities. We are in a historical situation where we really need to change mobility patterns,” said Kuhlmann. “We must use this moment to think about better plans for urban development, how do we want to live in our cities in the future, how do we want to deal with the transport that is needed for people and loads that we are buying and selling.”