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Environment & Climate

Energy Transition – A Project for Generations

Germany has been promoting renewable energies since the 1990s. The Energy Transition is leading to electricity predominantly coming from regenerative sources.
Generationenprojekt Energiewende
Oskar/stock.adobe.com

The Energy Transition is the single most import­ant economic and environmental policy task in Germany. The Energy Transition refers to the restructuring of the country’s energy supply sources away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, towards renewable energies. Germany’s goal is to be largely greenhouse-gas neutral by the year 2050. A minimum of 80 percent of electricity and 60 percent of all energy will then come from renew­able energies, so the plan. All nuclear power stations will be mothballed by as early as 2022. Since 2019 there have only been six nuclear power stations still in operation.

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.

Reducing dependency on imports

Likewise, in the year 2000 the Federal Government at the time agreed with the German energy companies on an exit from nuclear power by 2022. Hence, 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 was passed in 2011 by the parties represented in the German Bundestag 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 Transition, 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 45 billion euros annually on the import of coal, crude oil, and natural 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.

Using energy more efficiently

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Strengthening the “second pillar” of the Energy Transition – the more economical, more efficient use of energy – is another major task. At the end of 2019, the Federal Government approved the Energy Efficiency Strategy 2050 (EffSTRA). The target is by the year 2030 for primary energy consumption to have fallen by 30 percent compared to 2008 levels. Together with business associations and groups from civil society, the federal states and representatives of academia will analyse ways to half consumption by 2050 and develop specific plans for the period between 2030 and 2050.

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 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

World’s first binding climate protection legislation

The Federal Government’s Climate Protection Programme, which was agreed upon in late 2019, therefore provides for upper limits for emissions from buildings and in other areas. Furthermore, the Climate Protection Act includes the resolution that carbon dioxide emissions from transport and buildings are to be given a fixed price. This already applies for the energy economy and energy-intensive industry in the context of European emissions trading. From January 2021, the price will initially be 25 euros per ton of CO2, but by the year 2025, it will have increased incrementally to 55 euros. The Climate Protection Programme paves the way for achievement of the 2030 climate goal: 55 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels. With its Climate Protection Act, the German government became the first worldwide to frame its national climate protection goals in a legally binding format.

The Energy Transition 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 2019, green electricity had a 42.1-percent share. Depending on weather, at peak output solar and wind power plants can cover up to 90 percent of electricity demand in Germany. Over 66 percent of all new residential buildings are already heated with renewable energies and now, in 2020, there are 1.7 million solar PV systems installed, generating approx. 49.5 gigawatts in rated power. This puts Germany in fourth place behind China, the USA and Japan in terms of nameplate capacity.

The Renewable Energy Sources Act as 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 Transition. Since 2014 the EEG cost levy has remained relatively constant with only slight fluctuations between six and seven cents per kilowatt hour.

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 Transition 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 to add several hundred kilometres of “power highways”. This way, electricity from wind power, which is primarily generated in north Germany, can reach the strong economic hubs that are the centres of consumption in the south over long distances without major losses. The original plans to install overland cables were abandoned due to civil protests. In 2015, the Federal Government resolved to install underground cables. The major transmission lines are now intended to go operational in 2025 at the earliest, and not 2022 as originally planned. In addition, the regional grids need to be expanded in order to be able to accommodate the solar power that is fed into the network from decentral sources.