06 Feb 2019, 11:00

The main stories of Germany's 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.

Utilities and the Energiewende
Germany’s coal exit debate
Managing Germany’s nuclear legacy
The energy transition and Germany’s power grid
The people’s Energiewende
Energiewende effects on power costs, jobs and industry
The energy transition and mobility in Germany
Efficiency and the Energiewende
New technologies for the Energiewende
The Energiewende’s impact beyond German borders


Utilities and the Energiewende

The transition to renewables has left the major utilities out in the cold. E.ON and RWE had split their conventional from the renewable power businesses, only to agree on an extensive asset swap deal in 2018. Vattenfall has opted to sell its lignite operations, and state-owned EnBW is making big strides to become greener. Despite these drastic steps, their future role in Germany’s fast-changing energy markets is far from clear, as they are scrambling to find new business models. While digital technologies disrupt the power market, the incumbents hope the pending electrification of transport and heating will offer new growth opportunities. But in the innovation race against agile new players, the former monopolies are weighed down by a heavy burden – their dependency on fossil and nuclear electricity generation.

Dossier: Utilities and the energy transition
Factsheet: Germany’s largest utilities at a glance
Factsheet:  Small, but powerful – Germany’s municipal utilities


Germany’s coal exit debate

Even as the share of renewables in Germany’s energy mix has risen to overtake coal as the most important electricity source, that hasn’t always translated into a fall in carbon emissions. Calls for Germany to fully abandon the fossil fuel, which still produces about a third of Germany’s electricity, have reached a fever pitch. In June 2018, the government launched the much-anticipated coal exit commission. It was tasked with finding economic perspectives for coal workers and regions, spelling out measures to reduce carbon emissions in line with Germany's climate targets and specifying an end date for coal-fired power production. The commission recommended to end coal-fired power generation by 2038 at the latest. The federal government examines the proposal and must decide about its implementation.

Dossier: Europe's largest economy aims to exit coal to reach climate goals
Article: Commission watch – Managing Germany’s coal phase-out
Factsheet: German commission proposes coal exit by 2038
Factsheet: Germany’s coal exit commission
Factsheet: Germany's Climate Action Law begins to take shape
Factsheet: Coal in Germany
Factsheet: Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets
Factsheet: Germany’s three lignite mining regions
Dossier: The energy transition and climate change


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

A decentralised, fluctuating renewable energy supply needs a different kind of power grid. Rapidly growing wind power capacity in Germany’s 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. The new German government in 2018 raised the renewables target for 2030, but linked it to sufficient grid capacity. Grid expansion is among the government’s biggest priorities.

Dossier: The energy transition and Germany’s power grid
Factsheet: Re-dispatch costs in the German power grid
Factsheet: Germany's electricity grid stable amid energy transition
Factsheet: Interconnectors & blockages – German grid at odds with EU power market
Factsheet: Power grid fees - Unfair and opaque?


The people’s Energiewende

The Energiewende arose in part from grassroots movements against nuclear power and in favour of environmental protection. For about two decades, millions of Germans have invested in solar panels and 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 complicated citizens’ involvement. At the same time, projects like grid extension and wind parks have met resistance, demanding new ways to keep the public on board. The people’s energy transition is now entering a new phase especially in German cities, where tenant electricity models, car sharing and home storage systems are changing the role and involvement of the population.

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 have warned that 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. However, after balking at the Energiewende for many years, German industry has made a notable shift - embracing the energy transition with a new fervour. Business increasingly sees money to be made from a low-carbon future, and hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the renewables sector. To be sure, efforts to curb climate change through a far-reaching shift to clean energy will produce winners and losers in the world’s fourth-largest economy.

Dossier: The energy transition's effects on the economy
Dossier: Energiewende effects on power prices, costs and industry
Dossier: The energy transition's effect on jobs and business
Factsheet: How much does Germany’s energy transition cost?
Factsheet: Industrial power prices and the Energiewende
Factsheet: Where the Energiewende creates jobs


The energy transition and mobility in Germany

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. An even bigger road polluter – freight transport – remains a sideshow. The federal government has set up the mobility commission, an expert advisory panel tasked with making proposals on how to clean up the transport sector according to national climate targets.

Dossier: Cargo transport and the energy transition
Dossier: The Energiewende and German carmakers
Dossier: The energy transition and Germany’s transport sector
Factsheet: The task force in charge of steering Germany to clean mobility
Factsheet: The role of biofuel and hydrogen in Germany's transport Energiewende
Factsheet: Vague goals, modest strides
Factsheets: Emissions in Air cargo, road freight, rail cargo and maritime freight


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. To counter what many see as a standstill in efforts to make housing more climate-friendly, a government commission is tasked with finding measures to increase efficiency in buildings. For the industry, using energy more efficiently to reduce emissions is still much cheaper than fundamentally changing processes that have been used for decades.

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, and the rapid spread of digital technologies in the energy sector, are about to revolutionise the field once again. This 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 this area in less than a decade.

Dossier: Energy storage and the Energiewende
Dossier: New technologies for the Energiewende
Dossier: The digitalisation of the Energiewende
Factsheet: Technologies of the Energiewende
Factsheet: Power-to-gas: Fix for all problems or simply too expensive?


The Energiewende’s impact beyond German borders

Germany’s changing energy system does not exist in isolation. US President Donald Trump’s criticism of the planned pipeline project Nord Stream 2 – driven by concerns over Russian influence and the intention to sell more US liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the European market – brought the risks of Germany’s dependence on oil, gas and coal from other countries into focus. Some experts warn against cutting these energy ties – others argue that a fast shift to renewables will boost international security. 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 had to split its common power price zone with Austria.

Dossier: The Energiewende and its implications for international security
Dossier: The role of gas in Germany's energy transition
Dossier: Germany's energy transition in the European context
Factsheet: Germany’s dependence on imported fossil fuels
Factsheet: Gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 links Germany to Russia, but splits Europe
Factsheet: Energiewende - Germany is not alone
Factsheet: Loop flows



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

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