- The Writer holds an MSc in Eurasian Political Economy & Energy from King’s College London and also an MA in European Studies from Sabancı University.
The core of Germany’s energy transformation goes back to the year 2000 when the government introduced its renewable energy law. But the real change came when Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government in 2010 promoted renewables to the extent that both the Parliament and the public supported it. In the aftermath of one of the world’s biggest nuclear disasters in Fukushima, in Japan in March 2011, Germany undertook one of the most comprehensive energy transformations of any advanced economy worldwide called Energiewende (German for energy transition).
While many countries around the world lagged behind while pondering how to achieve greater decarbonization and move to a lower carbon energy system, introduced groundbreaking strategies and epic results. The European Union climate objectives for 2020 and 2030 and the Obama administration’s ambitious plans for a robust renewable program coincided with the . The promotion of renewable energy in the energy mix, the shift to natural gas to replace coal and oil, and lastly the phasing out of nuclear energy were the three majors pillars of the .
In accordance with the , a plan to increase the share of renewables in electricity generation by up to 38 percent in 2020, 50 percent in 2030 and 67 percent in 2040 was initially introduced. Within just a decade and a half, renewables, as a share in electricity generation, increased from 5 percent in 2000 up to 16 percent in 2007. In 2016, this reached almost 35 percent and in 2017, its share exceeded forecasts. To further expand renewable energy’s share in the energy mix, feed-in tariffs were introduced.
With technological innovation in renewable energy in recent years, particularly in the field of photovoltaics, solar panels and in wind turbines, operating costs in renewables look as if they will drop further in the years ahead. This can be seen particularly with a greater specialty in the field of wind turbines with optimized turbine architecture, which has lowered the overall cost of wind energy to be almost equivalent to generation from conventional sources.
Germany has also made in-roads in phasing out nuclear power with a gradual phase-out to approximately 80 TeraWatt Hours (TWh) in 2016 from 160 TWh in 2006. In 2011, Germany’s Chancellor ordered the closure of seven of the oldest nuclear power plants with a complete phasing out by 2022. Fears that Germany would not be able to generate sufficient volumes of electricity subsided when Germany succeeded in meeting the equivalent volumes with renewables over the years.
Due to the capacity shift, the share of overall energy generation from nuclear declined to as low as 11 gigawatts in 2017, implying that only negligible volumes of nuclear energy capacity remain in the country as only a decade ago Germany had a capacity of 160 Twh.
Coal, however, has not seen such progress as in the nuclear field. Coal production enjoys local peaks in different parts of the country, but the good news is that since 2015, coal has been on a downward trajectory. As the volume of natural gas consumption increases, coal is losing its vitality in power generation thanks to more competitively priced LNG and pipeline gas along with the desire to achieve higher volumes of decarbonization at a national level in line with promises made at the COP21 Paris Climate agreement. Nevertheless, coal consumption can be considered the least successful in the in comparison to progress made in other fields. Nonetheless, the continued dependence on coal is in decline, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest coal statistic data of 2017.
Despite the fact that the has been an extraordinary success story, the project’s implementation was severally criticized because of its high costs. Undoubtedly, energy system transformation is an expensive undertaking and the opponents of the energiewende claimed the program was not that successful given the low results achieved in reducing overall coal consumption while carbon emission fell short of expectations. Although this criticism is justified, the recent developments in renewable technology and the subsequent cost reductions in photovoltaic production, the uptake in solar and onshore wind turbines should help stem the critics. Furthermore, the transformation in the energy system has also brought greater employment and investments, more research and development in the field of renewable energy and has reduced the balance of payment burden by importing fewer volumes of hydrocarbons.
Through , the phasing out of nuclear capacity and the reduction in coal consumption to achieve a low carbon energy system has revolutionized Germany’s energy policy decisions over the last one and a half decade. The determination and ambition of the program are clearly reflected in the results achieved and have laid the groundwork for other countries to follow suit in aligning and cooperating to form a sustainable and resilient energy system.
- Opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy.