The German federal government
Federal legislative (Bundestag & Bundesrat)
The federal states
Federal agencies and government advisory bodies
The energy industry
The renewables industry
Research and Science
The German federal government is headed by the Chancellor, who is elected by a majority of Members of Parliament in the German Bundestag. It is responsible for most legislation relating to energy and climate change. Relevant legislation is, in most cases, drafted by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and/or the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU). The Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is responsible for legislation on transport - another key field for the energy transition, and the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI) is responsible for city development and buildings. A process of consultation between all federal ministries affected by new legislation follows and may result in revisions to the bill.
The Federal Foreign Office (AA) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) promote Germany's energy policy and establish cooperation with countries around the world.
For more information on the legislative process impacting the Energiewende see the CLEW factsheet From ideas to laws – how Energiewende policy is shaped.
Germany’s main federal legislative decision-making body is the directly elected Bundestag (federal parliament), in which each party has a proportional number of seats. All legislation on a federal level must be passed by a majority vote in the Bundestag.
The Bundesrat – the council of federal state governments – is Germany’s second federal legislative institution and provides states with an opportunity to influence national laws. The Bundesrat must be consulted on new federal legislation but, in most cases regarding environmental and energy legislation, the Bundestag could overrule a veto by the Bundesrat.
For more information on the legislative process impacting the Energiewende see the CLEW factsheet From ideas to laws – how Energiewende policy is shaped.
Germany is divided into 16 federal states, each with its own government (Landesregierung/Senat) and parliament (Landtag). Most Energiewende legislation is passed on a national level but the states have some leeway on how they interpret and implement these laws. They can, for example, stipulate tighter energy efficiency requirements in the building sector. States can also influence the energy transition through their control of planning laws - meaning they can influence how easy it is to develop new energy infrastructure such as wind turbines. Each state faces a different, individual set of conditions and challenges regarding the energy transition. Northern states, where most of the country's wind power capacity is located, have for example tended to see the energy transition as an economic opportunity and have supported the development of grid infrastructure and wind turbines. But richer southern states, whose renewable power generation is mainly from PV and biogas, have at times been resistant to both, saying they ruin the landscape and hurt property prices.
For more information see the CLEW factsheet on German federalism.
The majority of energy policy is decided on a national level and local governments have limited options to influence the big picture. When implementing existing regulation, however, rural communities and cities have instruments such as zoning plans, emissions control and environment protection to determine criteria for the local energy supply. Community support programmes can direct investment to the desired projects and cities can organise their energy supply through community-owned utilities. Local governments can also publish individual climate or Energiewende plans or introduce driving bans in city centres.
The German government relies on several agencies to conduct research, provide data and give policy advice, as well as ensure the implementation of laws and regulations. These agencies answer to individual ministries. Among the most important to the energy transition are the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA), the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), the German Council for Sustainable Development, the independent expert commission on Energiewende monitoring and the Federal Court of Auditors.
Grid regulator BNetzA is responsible for ensuring user access to electricity and gas grids and fair competition in the energy sector, setting a cap on grid fees, and overseeing national maximum-voltage grid development plans. The KBA is responsible for, among other things, registering vehicles and emissions testing. The German Energy Agency dena is a joint venture of government and key industry players with the goal to develop solutions and put them into practice, both nationally and internationally, mainly in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and intelligent energy systems.
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is the government's main service provider in international development and runs a large number of programmes in the field of energy around the world. Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) supports German companies in their international business activities and foreign companies looking to locate to Germany.
Germany is one of 28 countries belonging to the European Union. Member states must comply with the EU's regulations and targets on energy and emissions. Germany's domestic goals on emissions reduction and renewable development have been more progressive than the EU's. This is also true of commitments under the Paris Agreement, which the EU submitted collectively ahead of the agreement. EU regulations, however, can play an important role in shaping German energy and climate policy. Germany must enact domestic legislation in order to comply with EU directives, for example on vehicle emissions.
EU competition regulations have at times interfered with Germany's domestic energy policy. The Renewable Energy Act (EEG) - Germany's most fundamental legislation to support the development of renewables - has come under close scrutiny. It has been revised to expose the sector to market forces in line with EU regulation. The EU also objected to German subsidies for the country's coal sector, effectively forcing Germany to end hard coal mining by 2018.
The EU aims to further harmonise and integrate energy policy through its European Energy Union. This has raised German concerns over possible threats to its system of support for renewable energy development and interference in private energy suppliers’ gas-buying contracts. The EU also has a carbon pricing system in place - the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) - but it has so far failed to create a shift to low-carbon technologies.
For more information read the CLEW dossier Germany's energy transition in the European context.
Germany's two biggest political parties are the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - which operates as a single entity with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) - and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). The CDU/CSU and SPD currently share power in a coalition government. Other political parties currently represented in the Bundestag are the Green Party - which has been a driver for Germany's energy transition, the pro-business, liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP); the Left Party; and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. There is now a broad consensus between the major political parties that the transition to a low carbon economy is necessary. The AfD rejects the overwhelmingly accepted science-based view that human activity is the major driver of climate change, and has frequently expressed opposition to Energiewende legislation.
For each of Germany's major parties exists an affiliated party political foundation. These receive public financing and do party-related work like general information about the ideological cause.
The Green Party was formed in 1980, out of social movements in favour of green energy and opposed to nuclear power. It first gained seats in the Bundestag in 1983 and has consistently advocated for these causes. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 caused the previously pro-nuclear SPD to call for an end to nuclear power. In 1998, the SPD and Greens formed a coalition government, which introduced the first Renewable Energy Act in 2000, along with a law to phase out nuclear power by 2022. In 2010, a new coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) extended the operating time of nuclear plants by up to 14 more years. In the wake of the Fukushima accident in 2011, the same government reinstated the 2022 phase-out deadline. The Social Democrats’ strong links to the German trade unions have meant the party has been reluctant to commit to a coal exit because of fears over the impact it will have on workers dependent on the industry.
For more information read the CLEW dossier Vote2017 - German elections and the Energiewende.
Germany's major energy companies have often resisted Energiewende policy as it has undermined their basic business model. The former big four energy companies have been slow to take up renewable power production, and have fought the German government in court over the nuclear phase-out. But in recent years they have recognised that the energy system is changing. They reacted by increasing investment in renewables and, in the case of the two biggest energy providers - RWE and E.ON - first separated their conventional power operations from new business in renewables, grid and energy services via spin-off companies innogy and Uniper, and then agreed on an extensive asset swap deal.
Other players in the energy industry, such as municipal utilities, or Stadtwerke, which are often publicly owned and operate a range of services in their local area, have at times been quicker to shift towards greener energies. The German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) lobby group represents the interests of energy providers large and small, and has significant influence on energy policy.
The renewables industry has boomed in Germany with the Renewable Energy Act, which guaranteed compensation above market rates for all providers feeding renewable power onto the grid. The industry now employs hundreds of thousands of people. Renewable energy generation technology is developed, produced, owned and operated by a diverse mix of players, from big companies like Siemens, Enercon, SMA and major utilities, to homeowners and tenants with rooftop solar arrays. In between is a mix of smaller firms, citizens’ cooperatives, Stadtwerke (municipal utilities), and green start-ups. The industry is represented by associations like the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) or organisations such as the Renewable Energies Agency (AEE). AEE is a communication platform funded by companies in the sector, the federal economy ministry (BMWi), and a number of industry groups dedicated to different branches in the sector, such as the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), the German Solar Industry Association (BSW) and the Federal Association for Bioenergy (BBE).
Germany is an industrialised country with a manufacturing sector that accounts for nearly a quarter of economic output. Industry will increasingly be directly affected by the energy transition, the further it progresses and buildings, transport and industry are interconnected with the power producing sector (sector coupling). The switch to renewables has already pushed up power bills not only for households, but also for business consumers. This has been a concern for industry, which has often complained that costs due to the energy transition put the country’s competitiveness at risk. However, energy-intensive businesses tend to be exempt from most of the surcharges that account for the power price rise, and some have benefitted from the falling wholesale power price. Politicians have stressed that ensuring German businesses stay competitive is key to the Energiewende’s success – which is as much about setting an example for other countries as about lowering domestic emissions. German industry, however, has made a notable shift - embracing the energy transition with a new fervour. Large and powerful associations, such as Federation of German Industries (BDI) and Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), represent the industry’s interests, attend to its competitiveness and lobby for lower cost burdens. The German Steel Federation (WV Stahl) and German Chemicals Industry Association (VCI) are examples of sector-specific organisations.
Germany’s trade unions are important stakeholders in the energy transition. They broadly support the energy transition and its opportunities but are concerned about job losses in the conventional power sector, and about the impact of rising power prices on industry. Trade unions have strong membership in the conventional energy sector, which is going through major upheavals. Trade unions organised pro-nuclear rallies in the 1970s but, following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the German Trade Union Association (DGB) backed an eventual end to nuclear power. Trade unions are represented on the boards of all the major utilities and have in the past resisted moves to give up coal. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is also aligned with the trade unions, which many observers see as the reason the former energy minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) was hesitant, about committing to an exit date for coal. News reports in 2016 said that the trade union for mining, chemicals and energy industries IG BCE strongly lobbied against a fast lignite phase-out. Other unions have shown more openness, but have emphasised the need to help those whose jobs may be in danger. Trade unions are less well-represented in the renewable power sector. Although they see the growing green energy sector as important for creating jobs - and the manufacturing union IG Metall has rising membership in the wind sector - they also argue that pay and conditions in renewables have fallen short. In some cases, trade unions and works councils have played a role in pushing employers to adopt greener practices and have set renewable energy cooperatives.
Read more on trade unions in the CLEW article Unions between embracing the new and defending the old in Energiewende.
Environmental groups have long played an important role in lobbying the government for more progressive energy legislation. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), Germanwatch and WWF are among the most vocal environmental groups in Germany. Climate-Alliance Germany, meanwhile, brings environmental groups together with other organisations such as churches and trade unions to help shape energy and climate policy. Germany’s environmental groups strongly favour a fixed date for exiting coal. They do, however, differ on the details, such as when the country should finally give up coal and the need for grid extension. Environmental groups, particularly conservation-focused NABU, have also raised concerns over the environmental impacts of renewable energy development – such as building renewable power facilities in natural areas and the impact of wind turbines on wildlife.
Germany has a diverse and still sizeable landscape of traditional media. None of the German mainstream outlets denies man-made climate change or rejects outright the overall goals of the Energiewende. But assessment of individual policies varies widely depending on a publication’s priorities, readership or ideological stance. Major daily newspapers with a national circulation such as the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the more centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung cover the Energiewende in detail. Business publications such as daily Handelsblatt and weekly WirtschaftsWoche focus on the economic impact, while left-leaning newspaper taz emphasises climate and environmental aspects. Germany’s more than 320 regional newspapers frequently cover local aspects and implications of the Energiewende. The well-funded public broadcasters ARD and ZDF also report regularly on all aspects of energy policy, as do the 64 public radio stations. A growing number of specialised energy publications, such as bizz energy, Tagesspiegel Background Energie & Klima, and Energie & Management, cover even the most intricate details of the transition. The news websites of traditional print titles such as Spiegel Online or Focus Online top user rankings among online media. Social media still plays a smaller role in the German energy and climate debate than in countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom.
Research organisations are key to developing Energiewende technology, with major research projects at institutions such as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Fraunhofer Institutes receiving government funding. Some renewable energy firms, including solar company SMA, also developed out of university research programmes, and German universities offer a growing number of programmes related to the renewable sector. Data from government-funded research at such organisations are key to developing German energy policy, as is the work of think tanks that commission and undertake research. These include policy-focused Agora Energiewende*, the Institute for Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut) and the German Development Institute (DIE). Other research institutions include the business-oriented Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW) and not-for-profit EWI Research & Scenarios (ewi ERS). Private consultancies include adelphi, Ecologic Institute, Ecofys and Aurora Energy Research.
*Like the Clean Energy Wire, Agora Energiewende is a project funded by Stiftung Mercator and the European Climate Foundation.
Pressure from the German public has been key to pushing energy environment issues – particularly the phase-out of nuclear power – higher on the political agenda and providing the early impetus for the energy transition. There continues to be broad public support for the Energiewende. German citizens have also played a key role in the Energiewende as producers of renewable power, from prosumers with home rooftop photovoltaic arrays and larger installations owned by citizens banding together in energy cooperatives. But there have also been public protests against new energy infrastructure such as grid extensions and wind turbines.
Read more about the German public’s role in the CLEW dossier The People’s Energiewende.
Germany's foreign office also has compiled a "Who is Who" of the Energiewende with an overview of key players and resources. You can find it here.