Germany's energy shift 'on wrong track'

'Climate madness': Wintershall's executive director for E&P, Martin Bachmann

Germany’s dream of an energy transition to renewables to cut carbon dioxide emissions is ”in danger of turning into a nightmare” as an increased reliance on coal by the country is having the reverse effect, Wintershall has warned.

The German player’s executive director for exploration & production, Martin Bachmann, told the ONS conference in Stavanger the country needs to wake up to the need for natural gas in its energy mix to offset fluctuations in the supply of renewable fuels such as solar power and wind.

As it is, Germany has increased its use of relatively cheaper coal rather than natural gas as it winds down the use of nuclear energy as part of its so-called Energiewiende, which has had the effect of increasing its emissions despite about €23 billion($30.3 billion) in renewable subsidies.

"Coal is increasingly being used as a fuel and natural gas is having to take a back seat – with grave consequences,” Bachmann said.

“Germany is pursuing a great dream that one day we will be able to live from the sun and wind alone. But if you look at the facts today this dream is in danger of turning into a nightmare,” he added.

A recent study carried out by the University of Cologne revealed that Germany could save around 40% of its emissions in the power segment alone on 1990 levels if it replaced coal with natural gas in its energy mix.

“The energy transition in Germany shows that focusing energy policy solely on renewable energies is akin to leading the country up a blind alley. Idealism is not enough. Pragmatism is just as important,” Bachmann said.

He cited the example of the US, which saved 740 million tonnes of CO2 emissions between 2007 and 2012 by using more natural gas.

Bachmann believes the North Sea - and specifically Norway – could in future provide a major source of gas to fill the gaps in German energy supply.

However, he criticised uncertain signals being sent by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel over the future role of gas in the country’s energy strategy.

“Security of energy supply requires planning certainty, otherwise companies and states will not invest in production of oil and gas. Many export nations feel uncertain, including Norway,” he said.

Bachmann said that Germany's energy policy uncertainty was making it difficult for oil companies such as Wintershall that are operating in the North Sea to make investment decisions on field developments.

He also warned this could ultimately restrain exploitation of future gas discoveries in the Barents Sea, which is believed to be largely gas-prone.

Bachmann reminded the Merkel government the original goal of the Energiewiende was to develop energy supply that is ecological, secure and affordable, underlining it was primarily aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions rather than increasing the role of renewables.

While backing the use of renewables, Wintershall said the country needed reliable energy technologies to partner green fuel sources but that increasing the use of coal was “climate policy madness”.

The company instead wants Germany to boost gas imports from Norway - where it has production assets – that last year supplied nearly 30% of the country’s gas needs, with 78% of Germans polled in a survey saying they would favour Norway as a reliable supplier to offset declining European gas output.

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