Energy question of the week: Who uses the most electricity in Germany?

06. December 2010, 09.20, Jan Oliver Löfken, 4 Comment/s
Since 1990, the consumption of electricity in Germany has risen by about one third. Despite more efficient household appliances - for example, refrigerators, energy-saving light bulbs and computers, the VDE (Germany's trade association for the electrical, electronics and information technology sectors) envisages a further increase of almost 30 percent between now and 2025. There is a vast and currently untapped potential for savings. So, who actually accounts for the majority of electricity usage in Germany?

Every year, German power stations – from wind farms to nuclear plants – produce roughly 650 terawatt-hours (650 billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity. After deducting the power consumption of those power stations and grid losses during transmission, that leaves about 550 terawatt-hours for consumers. Almost half of this total (in 2008, it amounted to 256 terawatt-hours) goes to major industrial users – from steelworks to car factories. The power needs of agriculture, the public sector and small-scale commercial consumers amount to 130 terawatt-hours. The transport sector – primarily the operation of the rail network – draws roughly 17 terawatt-hours from the national grid annually. Household use – power from the wall socket – accounts for just less than 140 terawatt-hours.

Breakdown of electrical energy consumption in Germany’s private households (2006). Source: Energy Agency NRW. Credit: Markus Schweiss.

The potential scope for savings lies in the hands of private households

Although industry responds swiftly to rising electricity prices and rapidly introduces energy-saving processes, driven to do so quite simply by the wish to save costs, this sector will remain the largest consumer of electricity for some years. This explains why attention is now focused so much on the potential for saving energy in private households. Indeed, electricity consumption in this sector did decline slightly between 2008 and 2009, dropping from 140 to 138 terawatt-hours. Nonetheless, due to the growth in the number of individual households, and the ever rising number of electrically powered appliances, further conservation measures are necessary if growth in total usage is to be avoided.

According to the Zentralverband Elektrotechnik- und Elektronikindustrie (ZVEI – the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association), if the private (that is, domestic residential) sector were to make full use of energy-efficient modern appliances, it would be possible to reduce consumption by as much as 60 terawatt-hours. That is roughly the equivalent of 24 power stations, each generating 400 megawatts. For example, the next generation of lighting, using LED technology, could reduce the electricity required for lighting from 50 terawatt-hours to as little as 10 terawatt-hours. Less visible, but also highly effective, would be the use of more efficient heating system pumps, capable of operating with just half of the electrical power that current models consume and yielding potential savings of almost two terawatt-hours. Then, if household appliances such as hair dryers, mixers and washing machines were to be equipped with more energy-efficient electric motors, the ZVEI believes that another eight terawatt-hours of savings could be achieved, and possibly even more. Last but not least, dispensing with the stand-by mode on appliances would cut consumption by a further five to ten terawatt-hours.

Of course, to achieve these savings, private households would have to spend additional money to purchase these more energy-efficient appliances. If electricity prices continue to rise, public willingness to do this will, of course, also increase. Despite their newfound environmental awareness, electricity consumers still find that the most compelling argument to save power arises when not doing so has them digging even deeper into their wallets.

The DLR Energy question of the week in 'The future of energy' Year of Science

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has given the Year of Science 2010 the motto 'The future of energy'. For this reason the science journalist Jan Oliver Löfken will this year answer a question on the subject of energy in his blog each week. Do you have a question about how our energy supply might look in the future? Or do you want to know, for example, how a wave power plant works and how it can efficiently generate electricity? Then send us your question by email. Science journalist Jan Oliver Löfken will investigate the answers and publish them each week in this blog.

Top image: Benjamin Monteil.

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