Germany's Energiewende: The Easy Guide

Find your way around the energy transition

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Germany is bidding farewell to nuclear energy, expanding renewable energy sources and working to make its economy virtually climate-neutral by mid-century. Researching and understanding the massive undertaking that is Germany’s "Energiewende" can be tough - especially if you’re not an expert in climate and energy policy. But Germany’s experience offers valuable insights and can serve as an example on how to wean a major economy off fossil fuels, even for countries with their own unique conditions and challenges. This guide is a first, easy introduction to the energy transition that is having major impacts throughout German society and beyond.

What is the Energiewende? Click here for a 416-word description of the term Energiewende.

The energy transformation, in Germany widely known as the "Energiewende", is the country's planned transition to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy. But there is much more to it than phasing out nuclear power and expanding renewable energies in the power sector.

 

The main stories Click here to learn more about the main stories of the Energiewende.

The energy transition is turning many parts of German society upside down. In this factsheet we highlight the main storylines of the generational project Energiewende as a starting point for further research.

 

Key stakeholdersClick here for more about the key stakeholders in Germany's Energiewende.

Which groups are invested in, and impacted by, the German energy transition? Here we identify the key stakeholder groups, their positions and concerns.

 

 

Germany’s energy & power mix in chartsClick here for Germany’s energy consumption and power mix in charts.

A wealth of numbers and statistics describe the energy generation and consumption of nation states. This factsheet provides a range of charts (and data links) on the status of Germany’s energy mix, as well as developments in energy and power production and usage since 1990.

 

Energiewende targetsClick here for Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets.

This factsheet provides an overview of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and the government's Energiewende targets.

 

 

From ideas to lawsClick here for information on how Energiewende policy is shaped in Germany.

Ministerial bureaucracy, objection bills, informal agreements with interest groups, green and white papers – energy transition policy shaping in Germany’s parliamentary system is a complex process. This factsheet aims to give a brief overview of German law-making on energy and climate issues.

 

Key Energiewende publicationsClick here for a list of key publications surrounding Germany's Energiewende.

Reporting on Germany’s generational Energiewende can be challenging for even the most seasoned journalist. Government institutions, NGOs and researchers publish a myriad of studies, reports, data collections and analyses every year. This factsheet provides a chronological overview to help navigate the key recurring publications that provide a wealth of Energiewende data.

 

Timeline Click here for a brief timeline of Germany's Energiewende.

In 2014, the Green Party’s Julia Verlinden asked the federal government for its definition of a starting date for the “Energiewende”. In his reply, state secretary Uwe Beckmeyer argued that the transition to an energy supply based mostly on renewables was a continuous process, because it was impossible to speak of any “concrete starting date”. The following timeline provides a short overview of key events developments, movements and documents, in history of that process.

 

 

Germany's Energiewende in 416 words

The “Energiewende” – literally meaning “energy turnaround” or “energy revolution” – is Germany’s effort to reduce climate-damaging CO2 emissions, without relying on nuclear energy.  

In the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, countries from around the world committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to get climate change under control. Germany is a pioneer in this regard: With broad public backing and cross-party support, Europe’s most populous country aims to become almost climate-neutral by mid-century.

This is why Germany’s energy transition is watched closely, for the valuable lessons it provides on weaning a major economy off fossil fuels. The “Energiewende”, which grew from a grassroots anti-nuclear and environmental movement into a vast national project, has profound effects throughout society and business.

Many environmentalists cite Germany as proof that an industrialised nation can ultimately ditch fossil fuels without sacrificing growth. Critics argue the German experience confirms that switching to renewables comes at a high cost to consumers and industry – and doesn't automatically reduce carbon emissions.

So far, the transformation has focused on the electricity sector. The boom of wind and solar power, triggered by generous financial support, means a third of the electricity Germany uses now comes from renewable sources. Citizens and cooperatives own many of these installations, while the fortunes of major energy companies have declined. Integrating this distributed, small-scale generation that depends on the weather into the power system still poses significant challenges.

At the same time, Germany is now serious about extending the scope of its energy transition. It aims to power heating and transport with renewable electricity, to replace fossil fuels entirely – a move with massive implications for its car giants BMW, Mercedes and VW. And much must still be done to reduce the energy appetite of the world’s fourth largest economy, by increasing efficiency both in households and industry.

Despite its green ambitions, Germany struggles to meet its short-term climate targets, because it continues to burn lignite, or brown coal, to generate its electricity. Phasing out this particularly climate-damaging fuel seems inevitable if Germany is to meet its emissions targets. But the government has held back on setting a deadline for a coal exit, fearing an economic blow to lignite mining regions.

In contrast, Germany is firmly on track to give up nuclear power by 2022. Major nuclear reactors have already been shut down without harming the security of the power supply.

This guide lays out the basics of Germany’s generational Energiewende project and links to CLEW’s in-depth reporting for those who want to find out more.

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