Easy Guide

Germany's Energiewende in brief

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 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. The German government has been a strong voice for ambitious international action. With broad public backing and cross-party support, Europe’s most populous country itself aims to become almost climate-neutral by mid-century.

As an early starter, 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 abandon 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, pushed renewable sources to overtake coal as Germany’s most important power source in the first half of 2018. 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, for example for the power grid in Germany and beyond.

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 energy, to replace fossil fuels entirely – a move with massive implications for its carmakers, freight industry or gas companies. 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. Emissions from trucks and passenger cars remain stubbornly high, and the country continues to burn coal to generate electricity. In 2018, the new government launched the much-anticipated coal exit commission, tasked with planning the phase-out of coal-fired power generation, and finding ways close the gap to the 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal. It has published its final report and the German government must now decide on the proposals' implementation.

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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