The aim is “net zero”: Germany aims to become climate neutral by 2045. Can this be achieved? Where are we on the road to achieving climate neutrality? And how much will it cost? A team of systems analysts from Forschungszentrum Jülich took stock of the reality. In their study, which they presented today in Berlin, the scientists concentrate on 2030 as it represents one of the key milestones.
Yes, net zero by 2045 is still possible; it is “still possible to calculate” in the highly detailed analyses of the Jülich systems analysts. However, the scientists’ models also show that 2030 represents a cut.
“To achieve the targets of the German Federal Climate Change Act (KSG), comprehensive measures need to be in place by 2030 in all sectors,” explains Detlef Stolten, director of the Jülich subinstitute of Techno-Economic Systems Analysis. “In addition, the groundwork must be laid for subsequent steps if climate neutrality is to be achieved by 2045. What we do in the next seven years is critically important.”
Massive expansion of wind energy and photovoltaics
Renewable energy must be expanded. “The substitution of fossil energy carriers will lead to an increasing electrification of the German energy supply sector,” says Felix Kullmann, lead author of the study. “This concerns all sectors: transport, industry, residential, commercial.” This in turn will lead to a much higher level of electricity consumption. “And on top of this, the room we have to manoeuvre is getting smaller and smaller.”
If the costs associated with the necessary expansion of renewable energy are to be minimized, then plant capacity must be considerably increased every year until 2030: at the moment, annual expansion rates of around 2 gigawatts would be required for wind power capacity and of 8 gigawatts for photovoltaics. According to the Jülich researchers’ calculations, a two- to fourfold increase in capacity is required at a minimum for both.
Course must be set early
Other cornerstones of a climate-neutral supply include increased energy efficiency (the most climate-smart kilowatt hour is the kilowatt hour that is simply not used) and heat pumps, which are due to account for 21 % by 2030. To ensure that they are operated as efficiently as possible, heat storage systems must also be expanded. Just as important for Germany’s transition to renewable heating is the refurbishment of existing buildings. “This needs to be reflected in increased incentives for insulation measures or the replacement of old windows,” says Felix Kullmann.
The demand for hydrogen will increase rapidly from 2035: In addition to increasing installed domestic electrolysis capacity, Germany will also need to create options for importing hydrogen beforehand, as more than half of the required hydrogen will have to be imported. “Biomass is another important cornerstone,” says Kullmann. By 2030, close to 14 % of primary energy use will be covered by biomass. This will rise to 20 % by 2045. “This is why we must harness the as yet untapped potential of biogenic waste and residual materials, and we must begin to expand the areas of land used for the cultivation of energy crops before 2030.”
And finally, it will be necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. “Climate neutrality will be impossible without the permanent storage of CO2,” explains Detlef Stolten. “In 2045, we will have to deal with more than 70 million tonnes of CO2 in residual emissions that cannot be avoided. These will have to be compensated for by an equal amount of negative emissions. By 2030, suitable geological reservoirs must be found for the captured CO2 and the legal framework must be established for the permanent storage of CO2.”
The study is based on detailed calculations performed using the ETHOS model suite, which was developed by Jülich scientists specifically for this task. It enables a scientifically founded analysis of cost-effective strategies and measures aiming to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The ETHOS computer models depict the German energy supply with its generation pathways and all of its interactions – in great temporal and spatial detail. This includes the future integration of energy imports and exports as well as an infrastructure analysis that accounts for all relevant energy carriers – electricity, gas, hydrogen, heat.