The enthusiastic statements made by German leaders against global warming at the G7 held in Bavaria or in the perspective of the Paris Conference, should not be misunderstood. German leaders, as always – they cannot be blamed for this – protect their industry. Chancellor Angela Merkel treats her political supporters in order to stay in charge; whatever effect this may have on her country’s CO2 emissions. Climate change? Sure. But not at the clients’ expense.
First, Germany gave up on nuclear power. This is one of the few domains in which the German industry did not perform. We forgot about it but the EPR - so criticized today - was the result of a Franco-German project between Framatome and Siemens, born in the late 1980s after the Chernobyl disaster and in order to design safer reactors. Under the influence of CEA, France had launched a competing project, Superphénix, whose merit was allegedly to solve the waste issue. The project was abandoned but EDF waited for a while before ordering the EPR. When Areva was created in 2001 Siemens, in order to concretize the alliance and to make this new company the “Airbus of the nuclear industry”, brought its own activities and became a minority shareholder of Areva NP, the subsidiary in charge of reactors and their maintenance. Orders were needed so, Areva turned to the Finnish utility TVO that was a historical customer of Siemens.
Areva, supported by Siemens that would provide the turbine, bids and wins the market. We know the rest. Deliver a nuclear island is one thing, building a plant in is another one. It is a bit like asking a factory that manufactures engines to produce cars. Siemens understood that he had no future in this sector and anticipated the decision of the German Government. Siemens put an end to its alliance with Areva in 2009. In 2011, after Fukushima, the German Chancellor announced that Germany would renounce to nuclear power and close its plants by 2022. This is the "energy revolution", the Energiewende. To offset these closures, Germany made massive investments in renewable energy, with increases in tariffs and subsidies tolerated by Brussels. Siemens, which had long been investing in wind power, will greatly benefit from this energy policy and this is no coincidence. The “Etat-stratège” is not always where you think.
But "renewable" energies are intermittent, and one must continually satisfy electricity needs. Germany’s withdrawal from the nuclear industry results in a sharp increase in the consumption of coal and lignite, whose combustion emits two and a half times more CO2 than natural gas. In 2014, these plants provided 45% of the electricity produced. In terms of CO2 emissions, Germany has become the bad boy of Europe, although the chosen criteria, in general indifference, were favourable to the country: the reference was 1990 (the year of reunification), when ultra polluting factories in the GDR were soon to be closed. The country did not need to make any effort to comply with these standards.
But politically, it was brilliant: the abandonment of nuclear energy has pleased the "Greens", with which Angela Merkel is still governing, and the revival of coal has ensured the support of the miners, who are very influential in Ruhr and Saxony. But that's not all.
Europe agreed, in line with the Kyoto Protocol, to address the environmental impacts of fossil fuels by creating CO2 emission certificates. Several countries outside of Europe and even some Chinese provinces adopted it later. The mechanism is simple. An issuer must pay a CO2 tax. To pay it off, the country received free certificates. If it exceeds its quota, it has to buy new certificates in a market where sellers are those who have not consumed all the certificates allocated to them. This system was launched before the 2008 crisis and was calibrated on past economic activity. The drop in activity makes the quota allocations overly generous. The price of certificates collapses and the system loses all incentive. Yet the solution would have been simple: reducing the allocations. But this would have required an agreement between the States approved by the European Parliament. Which country is the most against it? Germany. People talk now about a possible revision of quotas in 2018.
Meanwhile, the northern German wind turbines started operation and the country can display record figures of renewable energy capacity. But they do not reflect reality because it takes - at equal production - four times more capacity in wind and eight times more in solar energy than nuclear or thermal power plant. In addition, these productions on the Baltic shores do not correspond to local needs. It was necessary to adapt the transport network. But the southern landers of Germany, Bavaria in the lead, are strongly opposed to the construction of high-voltage lines that disfigure their landscapes. With the blessing of European regulators, these productions enjoy priority access and German production, depending on meteorological conditions, depresses prices and destabilizes the markets of Benelux and even of France. It comes to the paradoxical point that France is sometimes forced to import electricity from Germany - yet for anecdotal amounts. Thus Germany increased its CO2 emissions in 2012 and 2013. 2014 showed some stabilization but it was due to a particularly mild winter, independent from the country’s commitments. Periodic excess of production benefiting from their network access priority destabilized the markets of neighbouring countries and caused wholesale prices fall.
The production of electricity and heat is not by far the only source of emissions. The other major factor is the combustion of fuel in transport. But one of the strengths of German industry consists in producing powerful vehicles that consume a lot of gasoline and diesel, therefore emitting CO2 and particles. But then again, what do we see? German industry, supported by its government exerts continuous pressure on Brussels to make emission standards less stringent and to postpone their application to a later date. In addition, the measurement of emissions remains a national competence. Each manufacturer manages to underestimate their level, sometimes in significant proportions (20 to 25% for the most powerful models). Germany’s climate-related concerns are well behind the interests of its industrial jewels. Moreover Germany’s influence in Brussels, allowed it to protect them despite its stated good intentions.