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Return to Germany's pace is needed - Stagnation instead of expansion in the German biogas sector

Despite its great importance for the success of the energy transition, the expansion of biogas has stagnated. The installed electrical capacity increased by just 49 megawatts in 2022 compared to 2021. The forecast for 2023 now even shows a decline in new plants and newly installed capacity.

Freising. Around one and a half years after the start of the war in the Ukraine and the resulting gas crisis, the players in the biogas industry are wondering why there is still not much more focus on the use of domestic renewable (bio-)gas sources.

Instead of expansion, stagnation prevails. Around 107 new biogas plants were built in 2022 compared to around 30 closures. The total number of biogas plants is thus 9,876 with an installed electrical capacity of 5,895 megawatts (MW). The resulting electricity production rose marginally to 33.54 terawatt hours (TWh).

Also, in the feed-in of biogas upgraded to biomethane little has happened: only four plants were connected to the grid in 2022. At the end of 2022, a total of 242 upgrading plants fed a good one billion cubic meters of biomethane into the natural gas grid.

The total gas production of biogas and biomethane in Germany (91 TWh) replaced 10.78 % of Germany's natural gas consumption in 2022. An increasing conversion of on-site electricity generation plants to biomethane feed-in is expected, which is reflected in the rising number of new biomethane plants (6 new biomethane plants in 2023) and several hundred feed-in requests for new biomethane plants.

The growth of the biogas sector will slow down this year according to the forecasts of the German Biogas Association. After deducting the shutdowns the number of biogas plants will probably increase by only 33. A slight increase in the installed capacity (5,905 MW) will be offset for the first time by a decline in work-related capacity (3,829 MW), which is mainly caused by the consequences of revenue absorption. These negative effects may be compensated for by the temporary abolition of the so-called maximum rated output, so that electricity production remains at approximately the same level (33.9 TWh). There has been little change in the regional distribution of plants and installed capacity. The front-runner is still Bavaria with 2,707 biogas plants and 1,458 MW capacity, followed by Lower Saxony with 1,691 plants and 1,360 MW.

Horst Seide, president of the German Biogas Association, complains that "too many legal obstacles and slow approval procedures are hampering the urgently needed expansion of biogas use in Germany". There is little sign of the "German pace" and the ambitious hydrogen ramp-up in the biogas sector. From the industry's point of view the energy sources biogas and biomethane must be integrated more strongly into the energy policy discussions; they are now available and technically mature.

According to the association's calculations, a doubling of biogas production is possible, without having to grow more energy crops. "Liquid manure, biowaste and agricultural by-products still hold a lot of energetic potential," Seide points out.

The situation in the EU is quite different. In 2021 almost 300 new biogas feed-in plants were connected to the grid, which corresponds to an increase of almost 30 %. By 2030, according to the European Commission's REPowerEU plan, biomethane production is to increase tenfold from today's 3.5 billion m³ to 35 billion m³.

"Germany must also make its contribution," emphasises Horst Seide. He calls on the federal government to improve the framework conditions - especially with regard to the "baby boomers", i.e. the biogas plants that have been connected to the grid since the first construction boom in 2006 and will thus be dropped from the EEG in 2026. These well-functioning plants need a reliable and long-term perspective to continue to use their potential and the extensive know-how of the operators.

An aspect of biogas use that still receives too little attention has come into focus in 2022:

The amount of heat used externally for electricity generation in the CHP rose from a good 15 TWh to 22.9 TWh. This would supply almost 2 million households.

Rural regions in particular benefit from biogas; not only from the climate-friendly, reliable and inexpensive heat. The bulk of the annual sales volume of 13.2 billion remains in rural areas.

Biogas Made in Germany is still in high demand worldwide and, with an export volume of 2.5 billion euros, it secures the location of the companies despite weakening domestic sales.

Political perspectives are needed to maintain the 52,000 jobs in the sector.

"In addition to regional value creation, biogas generates demand-oriented electricity and heat, climate-friendly gas, high-quality fertiliser and biodiversity. And there is still a lot of room for improvement. All we need to fully exploit this potential are reliable and long-term framework conditions," summarises the president of the association.

The complete industry figures with the corresponding graphics can be found here.