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14 Jan 2021, 13:34
Sven Egenter Benjamin Wehrmann

German power sector could achieve 100% renewables by 2040 – economy minister

Photo: © Grenzstrom Vindtved, BWE.

On its planned path to climate-neutrality by the middle of the century, Germany could achieve complete decarbonisation of its power sector already by 2040 – and EU climate targets might even compel the country to greatly speed up the expansion of wind and solar power, government ministers have said at a digital energy industry event. However, while the country is setting itself clear targets for the share of renewables in power consumption, it has not yet agreed on which projection of total power use in 2030 it will follow.

The German electricity sector could be based on 100 percent renewable energy sources as early as 2040, economy and energy minister Peter Altmaier has said at a digital energy industry conference organised by the business newspaper Handelsblatt. "We can do it by 2040," Altmaier said. He argued that the current goal of 65 percent renewables in power consumption by 2030 naturally had to be achieved first, irrespective of what Germany's exact power demand will be at the end of the decade. The government currently plans with a total electricity consumption of 580 terawatt hours (TWh), but many energy industry experts say that despite efficiency gains, this figure is set far too low and fails to account for electricity-intensive developments like e-mobility, electric heating or green hydrogen production.

The economy minister said the German government would be working on another assessment of the projected 2030 power demand and that an answer could be expected in the first half of the year, but he insisted that the goal of 65 percent renewables could be achieved or even surpassed in any event.

Regarding the sensitive issue of power prices, the minister of the conservative CDU party called for abandoning Germany's guaranteed remuneration system for renewable power installations under the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) and said the current renewables surcharge should be gradually lowered and ultimately given up within the next five years. Germany's power prices, among the highest in Europe, should eventually land "somewhere in the European midfield," the minister said. While this would not mean that renewables no longer receive any support at all, it could shift part of the burden away from power customers, whose acceptance of the energy transition's costs would be crucial for the project's success, he argued.

Social Democrats want higher wind and solar capacity targets

At the same event, environment minister Svenja Schulze, a Social Democrat (SPD), said that the European Union’s newly agreed target to cut CO2 emissions by 55 percent by 2030 meant that Germany too had to aim higher than the currently enshrined 55 percent cut. In order to achieve the more ambitious climate goals, she also argued that the country needed to step up the expansion of renewable energy sources. Germany would need 150 gigawatts (GW) in solar PV capacity by 2030, compared to the currently targeted 100 GW, and 95 GW onshore wind power capacity instead of the currently planned 71 GW. “I expect that we will decide to do that in the next reform of the EEG (energy) legislation this spring,” she told the conference.

Last October, Schulze had called for drastically increasing the 2030 renewable power target due to the tightened EU climate goal. She said Germany should aim for a share of "at least 75 percent, maybe even 80 percent" by 2030, an objective that had been described as chaginlleng by Germany's transmission grid operators. Green Politician Ingrid Nestle recently told Clean Energy Wire that while 80 percent renewables would indeed be a minimum target given emissions reduction ambitions, the government's projected power consumption for 2030 would by no means reflect reality.

Green Party wants end dates for internal combusition engines and fossil fuel heatings

The co-leader of the Green Party, Annalena Baerbock, said at the conference that a higher carbon price was needed to create a level playing field for renewable energy sources that would ultimately allow for an end to the current renewable support enshrined in the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) legislation. Baerbock said the current price set by the government of 25 euro per ton CO2 in the sectors heating and transport was not sufficient, mentioning the Green party’s 2020 proposal of a starting price of 60 euro/ton. Regulatory measures such an ultimate end-date for combustion engines in cars or fossil-fuel powered heating systems had to back up the carbon price to avoid grave social imbalances through ever higher prices en route to climate neutrality, Baerbock said.

Many political observers see a coalition of the conservative CDU/CSU bloc with the Green party, which is riding high in the polls, as the most likely outcome of Gemany’s federal election in September. Baerbock may become the Green party’s lead candidate, a spot she is competing for with co-leader Robert Habeck. When asked at the conference about her preference among the three candidates in the running for the leadership in the conservative CDU, Baerbock said: "The Union (CDU/CSU bloc) is our main competitor in the federal election."

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