Analysts: COVID-19, mild winter bring Germany’s climate goal within sight

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Image credit: Ștefan Jurcă / Flickr

Germany’s climate targets may gain an unintended boost from the COVID-19 crisis and weather dynamics this year but the progress will be temporary unless the country doubles down on green investments, experts have said.

A mixture of anti-pandemic transport shutdown measures and the gentler 2019-2020 winter could see Europe’s largest economy and solar market slash greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45% this year compared to 1990 levels, according to new modelling by think tank Agora Energiewende.

The predicted emission reprieve – bringing Germany in line with its 40% climate target for 2020 – may however not be good news for the country if emissions soar again after the COVID-19 crisis alleviates, said Agora’s director Dr. Patrick Graichen.

Germany, Graichen argued, must ensure emission cuts hold in the long term by shedding any “reluctance” to invest in renewables, building renovations and others. Any COVID-19 stimulus packages should not only combat the pandemic but also “climate-proof” the country, he added.

COVID-19’s spread so far this year, reaching 380,000-plus global cases this week, has been met by calls on major economies to make green energy a core part of relief strategies. From the US to Australia, campaigners have urged to guarantee cheap power supply by investing in PV and others.

Global body the IEA has also joined the calls, advising states and oil majors not to allow the COVID-19 crisis to distract from the “historic opportunity” of the energy transition. Anti-pandemic plans create, the IEA believes, a chance to majorly boost renewables and rethink fossil fuel subsidies.

Europe’s top solar market sounds COVID-19 alarm

The discussion around COVID-19’s unintended climate-friendly side-effects has gathered steam in recent weeks, with talk of less-polluted skies taking off on social media as pictures are posted of cleaner air in the Italian city of Venice and other tourist hotspots.   

Information released by the US’ NASA, the European Space Agency and other bodies has come to underscore the premise. Based on recent satellite imagery, the year-on-year drops in nitrogen dioxide levels have been stark in China, Italy and other pandemic-stricken countries.

The global health emergency has however started to cripple the supply chains of the green energies key to delivering climate goals. In core solar markets like the US, component delays and restrictions to face-to-face work have prompted factory shutdowns and talk of mass layoffs.

Germany has not been immune to the fallout. In line with the Netherlands, the UK and other fellow European nations, the country’s solar representatives have sounded the alarm over COVID-19’s knock-on impacts for PV players, including the risk of incurring fines if construction is delayed.

Last week, German solar body BSW urged the federal government to extend the commissioning deadlines for auction-backed projects. Fines, general manager Carsten Körnig said, should be restricted to only the more serious delays.

The disruption from the pandemic is emerging at a strong time for German solar, enjoying success with PV auctions and a rise of subsidy-free ventures as it works to take cumulative installed capacity from around 50GW to 98GW by 2030.

PV Tech has set up a tracker to map out how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting solar supply chains worldwide. You can read the latest updates here.

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in Germany and the rest of Europe will take centre stage at Large Scale Solar Europe 2020 (Lisbon, on 30 June-1 July 2020).

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