The main stories of Germany's Energiewende

Tags: 

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.

Utilities and the Energiewende
Germany’s coal exit debate
Managing Germany’s nuclear legacy
The energy transition and Germany’s power grid
Germany revamps its renewables law
The people’s Energiewende
Energiewende effects on power costs, jobs and industry
The energy transition and Germany’s transport sector
Efficiency and the Energiewende
New technologies for the Energiewende
The Energiewende’s impact beyond German borders
Heating

 

Utilities and the Energiewende

The transition to renewables has left the major utilities out in the cold. E.ON and RWE have split their conventional from the renewable power businesses, Vattenfall has opted to sell its lignite operations, and state-owned EnBW is redoubling efforts to become greener. Despite these drastic steps, their future role in Germany’s fast-changing energy markets is far from clear. As the world’s fourth largest economy seeks solutions to the big question of how to keep the lights on when there is no sun or wind, new business models emerge and mighty competitors like Google could soon enter the fray.

Factsheet: German utilities and the Energiewende
Extra: Can Germany’s energy giants change their DNA?
Dossier: Utilities and the energy transition
Factsheet: How can Germany keep the lights on in a renewable energy future?

 

Germany’s coal exit debate

Even as the share of renewables in Germany’s energy mix has risen, that hasn’t always translated into a fall in carbon emissions. The rise of renewables has driven down wholesale power prices and together with cheap, carbon-heavy lignite (or brown coal) they had - until recently - pushed less carbon emitting natural gas out of the market. Calls for Germany to ditch coal all grow ever-louder. But that would deal an economic blow to areas dependent on the lignite industry. Under pressure from other ministries, environment minister Barbara Hendricks backed off a concrete deadline in the Climate Action Plan 2050.

Dossier: The energy transition and climate change
Factsheet: When will Germany finally ditch coal?
Factsheet: Coal in Germany
Factsheet: Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets

 

Managing Germany’s nuclear legacy

The question is no longer whether Germany’s future will be nuclear-free– or even when, since the government is committed to completing the phase-out by 2022. But the logistics of pulling the plug on what was until recently one of the country’s primary sources of power are proving an immense challenge. Legal hurdles, technicalities, and above all, the questions of where to store the radioactive waste and who will pay for it are hotly debated.

Factsheet: What to do with the nuclear waste – the storage question
Factsheet: Securing utility payments for the nuclear clean-up
Dossier: The challenges of Germany’s nuclear phase-out

 

The energy transition and Germany’s power grid

Germany has to update its infrastructure to cope with decentralised, fluctuating supply as the country shifts to renewables. Rapidly growing wind power capacity in the north means a bountiful supply of low-cost electricity. But for grid stability, too much power can be as big a problem as too little, and not everyone is in favour of building new power lines to carry electricity to the country’s industrial south.

Factsheet: Re-dispatch costs in the German power grid
Factsheet: Germany's electricity grid stable amid energy transition
Dossier: The energy transition and Germany’s power grid

 

Germany revamps its renewables law

Germany’s renewable energy law (EEG) is the key regulatory tool of the Energiewende. But it is undergoing major reform to cut costs and expose the sector to market forces. The most significant changes are the switch to auctions for renewables capacity and a target corridor aimed at limiting the growth of renewables to what the gird can handle. But renewables developers say the reforms make investment less secure. The next round of reforms might also just be around the corner as experts wonder how the future increase in renewables necessary to reach the targets can be financed most cost effectively.

Dossier: The reform of the Renewable Energy Act
Factsheet: Defining features of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG)
Article: Debate on financing renewables in new ways gathers pace in Germany

 

The people’s Energiewende

The Energiewende arose in part from grassroots movements against nuclear power and in favour of environmental protection. Now millions of Germans invest in solar panels and shares in wind parks. Such engagement has been key to maintaining broad public support for the energy transition. But the switch to an auction-based system has stoked concerns that more complex rules will put citizens off. At the same time, projects like grid extension and wind parks have met resistance, demanding new ways to keep the public on board.

Factsheet: Citizens’ participation in the Energiewende
Factsheet: Facts and figures on the social impact of the Energiewende
Dossier: The People's Energiewende
Dossier: The social impact of Germany's energy transition

 

Energiewende effects on power costs, jobs and industry

The cost of the energy transition and ways to reform the renewables support continue to be hotly debated topics in Germany, while the ultimate price-tag of the generational project is hard to quantify. Energy-intensive companies in Germany benefit from the lowest wholesale power prices in Europe. But many business leaders warn the costs of the nuclear phase-out and the move to renewables could drive manufacturing abroad, taking a toll on the car industry and other pillars of the economy. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the renewables sector, but conventional energy has been bleeding jobs.

Factsheet: Industrial power prices and the Energiewende
Factsheet: Where the Energiewende creates jobs
Dossier: Energiewende effects on power prices, costs and industry
Dossier: The energy transition's effect on jobs and business

 

The energy transition and Germany’s transport sector

Bringing the Energiewende to mobility is crucial to creating a low-carbon economy but there is no consensus on how this should be done. German carmakers risk falling behind the global competition on battery technologies. Consumers are also slow on the uptake of electric vehicles, meaning Germany is unlikely to reach its target of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2020. But the Dieselgate scandal and threat from foreign e-mobility pioneers like Tesla seems finally to be prompting German car giants to shift gears.

Factsheet: The role of biofuel and hydrogen in Germany's transport Energiewende
Factsheet: Vague goals, modest strides
Dossier: The Energiewende and German carmakers
Dossier: The energy transition and Germany’s transport sector

 

Efficiency and the Energiewende

The only way Germany will meet its climate targets is by consuming less energy. In the past, energy use only fell significantly when the economy took a hit. Now the country wants to prove it is possible to decouple growth and emissions by dramatically increasing efficiency. The government’s National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency (NAPE) suggests that increasing energy efficiency can bring more emissions cuts – 25 to 30 million tonnes per year – than any other measure.

Factsheet: Details of new Climate Action Programme
Dossier: The Energiewende and Efficiency

 

New technologies for the Energiewende

The Energiewende anticipates a vastly more efficient and interconnected future energy system. It also poses huge technological challenges. Batteries that can store power and help regulate the grid with unprecedented speed and accuracy; the rapid spread of digital technologies in the energy sector is about to revolutionise the field once again. It will allow smart grids and other solutions for flexibility and integration of different power sources to become key to adapting to a power system dominated by renewables. Germany has doubled research and development funds in under a decade.

Dossier: New technologies for the Energiewende
Factsheet: Technologies of the Energiewende

 

The Energiewende’s impact beyond German borders

Germany’s changing energy system does not exist in isolation. Surging power from renewables finds its way into neighbouring grids – as unwelcome loop flows and exports of cheap power. Despite EU plans for a more integrated Energy Union, limited grid capacity means Germany is to split its common power price zone with Austria. Meanwhile, the Ukraine crisis brought the risks of Germany’s dependence on oil, gas and coal from Russia into focus. Some experts warn against cutting these energy ties – others argue that a fast shift to renewables will boost international security. If Germany is to make its energy transition a success, it could have repercussions across the globe.

Dossier: The Energiewende and its implications for international security
Dossier: Germany's energy transition in the European context
Factsheet: Germany’s dependence on imported fossil fuels
Factsheet: Energiewende - Germany is not alone
Factsheet: Loop flows

 

Heating

Heating up or cooling down Germany’s buildings still heavily relies on fossil fuels, much of it imported oil and natural gas. The federal government aims to make all of Germany’s buildings virtually climate-neutral by 2050, which means they have to become more energy efficient and the share of renewable energy in heating has to increase significantly. In 2015, renewable energy sources – most of it biomass – covered 13.2 percent of the country’s heating demand.

Factsheet: Combined heat and power - an Energiewende cornerstone?
Factsheet: Germany’s dependence on imported fossil fuels
Dossier: Bioenergy in Germany

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)”. They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.