Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 1-2/2020

2019: Numbers

Numbers do not lie if they are the right ones and if they are correct. But don’t start with pessimism when it comes to looking at current figures from the energy industry.

A statement by Margrethe Vestager, Vice President of the EU Commission, in December 2019 shows that figures can be impressive and thought-provoking, or that they can stand for necessary innovations. The EU Commissioner referred to a study by E.ON, according to which in 2017 around 200 billion kilowatt hours of electricity were consumed globally through streaming services, i.e. TV and Skype alone, with a clear upward trend. And this is only one figure that shows the importance of increasing digitalization in energy consumption. This represents another major challenge for the EU’s goal, also issued in December, of making the continent climate-neutral by 2050, said Margrethe Vestager.

Among other things, the study by E.ON reveals another interesting figure, which refers to the omnipresent “googling”: According to this, a search query triggers an electricity consumption of 0.3 watt hours, not much for our industry, which provides around 3,300 terawatt hours (TWh, 3,300 billion kilowatt hours, 3,300,000 billion watt hours) annually for consumers in Europe. But with around 40,000 search queries per second worldwide (as of 2017), these individual values already add up and become increasingly important for energy supply and sustainability strategies.

At national level, initial figures on energy consumption and energy consumption trends are available for Germany, among others. According to a current evaluation by the Federal Association of the Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), in 2019 Germany consumed 2 percent less electricity and 3.3 percent more gas than in the previous year.

The decline in electricity consumption was mainly due to the economic downturn. Industry, the largest electricity consumer with a share of almost 46 percent, had already been using less electricity for months due to the weaker economic situation. While initially only the drop in production in the power-intensive industries contributed significantly to the decrease in consumption, the development in the entire manufacturing industry is now responsible for this. Industrial electricity consumption, for example, fell by 4.1 percent compared with the previous year.

According to preliminary figures, a total of 511 billion kilowatt hours of electricity were consumed in 2019. Despite the declines, the largest consumer was industry with 234 billion kWh (45.7 percent), followed by public institutions, agriculture, trade and industry with 140 billion kWh (27.4 percent) and households with around 126 billion kWh (24.6 percent). The transport sector accounted for just under 12 kWh (2.3 percent). However, according to BDEW, the decline should not be regarded as an indication of a general decline in electricity consumption. The increasing electrification of the heating and transport sector would increase the demand for electricity in the medium and long term. The same applies to digitisation, with which the number of electronically operated devices and the power consumption of data centers will increase, and in addition, there will be the further effects of sector coupling, which may lead to higher consumption on the part of power generation, but will result in lower values in the overall context of energy consumption and emission reduction.

As far as the structures of energy consumption and electricity generation in Germany are concerned, two remarkable figures can be noticed:

Six million tonnes of CO2 were saved in 2019 as a result of the increased use of gas-fired power plants for electricity generation. With 91 terawatt hours of electricity from natural gas, more electricity than ever before in Germany came from gas power plants. This represents an increase of 7.5 TWh compared to the previous year.

According to first estimates by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen (AGEB), the German Working Group on Energy Balances, renewable energies increased their contribution to total energy consumption by 4 percent in 2019. Wind power increased its contribution by 15 percent. Hydro power increased by 4 percent. Solar energy increased only slightly by 1 per cent. Biomass, which accounts for more than 50 percent of total renewables, grew 2 percent. Since renewables typically make a large contribution to power generation, this effect will have a correspondingly positive impact on our sector.

Last but not least, a figure on environmental protection and climate conservation: According to calculations by the German Energy and Water Association (BDEW), the energy industry has reduced its CO2 emissions by 44 percent by 2019 compared with 1990. This means that it will already significantly exceed the 40 percent reduction target for 2020 this year.

*Sources: ec.europa.eu/eurostat/de/home, www.eon.com, www.ag-energiebilanzen.de, www.bdew.de