After the shutdown of the last three nuclear power plants, Germany imported significantly more electricity. Between April and June, 18.5 billion kilowatt hours, more electricity was imported than ever before in a quarter since the start of the time series in 1991, as the Federal Statistical Office announced on Wednesday. After deducting exports, there is also the highest import surplus for this period of 7.1 billion kilowatt hours. This roughly corresponded to the amount of electricity generated by the three German nuclear reactors in the second quarter of 2022 (7.3 billion kWh).

The industry association BDEW viewed Germany’s import balance as a “sign of a functioning internal electricity market”. In recent months it has often been cheaper to generate electricity abroad and thus also to replace domestic fossil-based electricity generation. BDEW boss Kerstin Andreae explained: “Higher electricity imports in the summer months mean neither a dependency on other European countries for the power supply nor are they an indication of shortages in Germany.”

There was still an export surplus before the nuclear phase-out

Before the German nuclear power plants were shut down on April 15, there had been a significant export surplus for many years. Even in the first half of the year, German electricity exports still exceeded imports. It has already happened before that Germany imports more electricity in the summer than it exports. Even when a significant proportion of electricity was still generated from nuclear power, there was already an import surplus in the warmer months – including in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Most imports in the first half of 2023 came from the Netherlands and France, which have significantly ramped up their production of nuclear power again. If you subtract German exports to the respective countries, Denmark and Norway are the largest suppliers of electricity, as the working group for energy balances has calculated. Both countries have a high share of renewable energy.

Demand and electricity production are declining

Increased energy prices and the sluggish economy have led to a decrease in the amount of electricity required in the German grid. It was 6.9 percent below the value of the first half of 2022, as the statistical office further reported. Domestic electricity production even fell by 11.4 percent, which was partly offset by additional imports.

With a share of 53.4 percent, most of the electricity in Germany was generated by renewable energy. Wind was by far the most important source and accounted for 28.6 percent of total production. A year ago, all renewable energy sources had reached a share of 48.4 percent.

The share of climate-damaging coal electricity fell by almost a quarter and reduced its share from 31.3 percent to 27.1 percent. In contrast, the importance of gas-fired power plants increased, their share growing from 11.9 to 13.9 percent. During the energy transition, they should increasingly supply the base load when little electricity from renewable sources is available.

The Federal Republic has been trading electricity with other EU states for decades as part of the European energy market. The cooperation should make it possible to save money and emissions. This means: Electricity is both imported and exported – and thus passed on within the confederation of states to where it is needed. There are times when electricity from the neighbors is cheaper for Germany than the electricity it produces itself. Electricity from renewable energies in particular is becoming increasingly cheaper compared to the conventional variant.