Energy reform – a project for generations

Offshore wind farms in the North Sea are the main pillars of the Energy Reform
Offshore wind farms in the North Sea are the main pillars of the Energy Reform Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Germany has been promoting renewable energies since as long ago as the 1990s. The Energy Reform is intended to lead to the supply of electricity predominantly from regenerative sources.

The Energy Reform is the single most import­ant economic and environmental policy task in Germany. The Energy Reform refers to the restructuring of the country’s energy supply sources away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, towards renewable energies. By 2050 at the latest, a minimum of 80 percent of electricity and 60 percent of all energy in Germany will come from renewable energies, so the plan. The next step will involve gradually shutting down all nuclear power stations by 2022; furthermore, by 2025 40 to 45 percent of electricity will be generated by renewable sources. Since mid-2015 there have only been eight nuclear power stations still in operation, providing around 15 percent of the electricity mix. The Federal Government is thus pressing ahead with the sustainable restructuring of the energy system, which ­began as long ago as 2000 with the first resolution on an exit from nuclear power and the promotion of the Renewable Energy Sources Act. In Germany the promotion of renewable energies began back in the 1990s and in the year 2000 was made into law in the form of the Renewable Energy Sources Act.

Exit from nuclear power based on long-term planning

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Likewise in the year 2000, the Federal Government agreed with the German energy companies on an exit from nuclear power by 2022. As such, the resolutions the Federal Government passed in 2011 follow in the trad­ition of restructuring of the energy system to rely on sustainable energy sources. It views the accelerated reorganisation of the energy system, which in 2011 the parties represented in the German Bundestag passed with the express approval of a large majority of the population following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in Japan, as “a necessary step on the way to an industrial society committed to the idea of sustainability and the preservation of Creation”.

However, it is not only the environment and climate that are intended to benefit from the Energy Reform, but the German economy as well – the primary aim being to eliminate ­reliance on international imports of crude oil and natural gas. To date, Germany spends around 80 billion euros annually on the import of coal, oil, and gas. In coming years, this amount will be gradually eliminated by domestic value added in the field of renewable energies; moreover, these measures result in additional export opportunities and the prospect of more jobs. Strengthening the “second pillar” of the Energy Reform – the more economical, more efficient use of energy – is another major task. Industry and large business enterprises have already achieved significant savings, and standards are high. Small companies and public facilities still have some catching up to do. Improving the energy consumption of old buildings in particular is especially important with regard to increasing energy efficiency, and the Federal Government makes grants available for the purpose. Buildings account for around 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. ­Although down slightly since 2007, electricity consumption also needs to be reduced: further efforts are needed to reach the goal of a 10-percent reduction by 2020 outlined in the original energy concept.

The Energy Reform seeks not only to minimise risks, but also to enhance climate-compatible energy consumption and high supply security. The dynamic development of renewable energies has meant an increase in the proportion of carbon dioxide-free energy in the electricity mix. In 2014, green electri­city had a 26 percent share of gross electricity generation, and in the first six months of 2015 it accounted for 32.5 percent of total electricity consumption. On sunny work days, solar PV plants can cover up to 25 percent of electricity demand, and on Sundays and public holidays even as much as half. Moreover, 38.7 percent of all new residential buildings are already heated with renewable energies. In early 2015, there were 1.5 million solar PV systems installed, generating approx. 38.5 gigawatts in rated power, putting Germany in third place behind China and the USA in terms of nameplate capacity.

The Renewable Energy Sources Act an international benchmark

Regarded in several countries as a benchmark, the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) was amended in 2014. The aim was to ensure that the population and business could afford energy, and that its supply was guaranteed. The background: As a result of the strong increase in the number of solar power systems and a different method of calculation, after 2009 there was a considerable increase in what is known as the EEG cost levy, whereby the increased cost of expanding green electricity is passed on to con­sumers on a pro-rated basis. This sparked a public debate on the cost of green electricity and ­the  Energy Reform. A fall in this share in the costs was seen in 2015 for the first time. The Federal Government is also working on re-designing the structure of the electricity market to ensure stable ­supplies despite a strong increase in the volume of fluctuating wind and solar power generated. Among other things it is about ensuring the avail­ability of gas-fired power stations, which can be used as required, and which emit considerably less carbon dioxide than coal-fired power stations.

The Energy Reform requires not only the establishment of new, “green” power stations. To ensure a reliable supply, power grids have to be adapted to the new structure. To this end there are plans, for example, to add several thousand kilometres of high-voltage lines. This way electricity from wind power, which is primarily enerated in north Germany, can reach the strong economic hubs that are the centres of consumption in the south.

In order to be able to accommodate the solar power that is fed into the network from decentral sources, the regional grids also need to be expanded. Not infrequently this expansion of the grid meets with resistance on the part of the residents in regions in which the new routes will run close to residential areas. The grid operators attempt to take concerns into consideration at an early stage. So as to defuse conflicts, thought is also being given to laying the electricity cables in underground cables.

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