Germany’s Clean Energy Transition - What is the Energiewende?
The Energiewende, or clean energy transition, is the term used for the fundamental shift in Germany’s energy supply. The current energy system, which relies on nuclear power, coal, oil, and gas, is being replaced by a new energy supply based on renewable energies, namely wind power, solar energy, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal. The main reasons for this shift in energy supply are:
- Risk Management: The risks of nuclear energy cannot be safely managed. The disasters at Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) illustrated this clearly. In addition, there is no safe means for storing the highly toxic radioactive waste from nuclear power plants, which remains radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
- Climate: The use of coal, oil, and gas produces climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main drivers of climate change.
- Scarce Resources: Coal, oil, and gas are finite. The scarcer they become, the more expensive a system based on a fossil-fuel energy system will be.
- Local Content: While much of our conventional energy (specifically oil, gas, uranium, and coal), must be imported, a large part of renewable energies are locally produced, thus increasing added value locally and reducing Germany’s dependence on imports.
In Germany, the issue of energy supply has long been a controversial political issue. In particular, the use of nuclear energy has been the subject of intense controversy for decades. But since the Bundestag’s June 2011 decisions, there exists in Germany a cross-party consensus to embark on the Energiewende. Thus, both the phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022 and specific targets for renewable energy development in the electricity sector are fixed by law. The energy strategy of the federal government also stipulates other goals, especially in the area of energy efficiency. (See table ‘Goals of the Energiewende’.)
What are the key issues and challenges?
The generation and consumption of electricity are central to the Energiewende because renewables will replace risky or CO2-intensive fuels such as nuclear energy and coal. In addition, in the medium term, an increasing share of Germany’s heating and transportation needs will be provided by electricity. The Energiewende’s targets in the power sector are:
- Renewable energy: The electricity supply will consist of at least an 80 percent share of renewable energies by 2050. There are also intermediate targets of 35 to 40 percent share by 2025 and 55 to 60 percent by 2035.
- Energy efficiency: Energy consumption shall be reduced by 10 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.
In Germany, the developments in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency have been very different. While the production of electricity from wind, solar, water, and biomass has been increasing steadily since 1990 (see Figure 1), energy consumption in recent years has remained largely constant (see Figure 2).
The Energiewende in the power sector is largely a result of the expansion of wind and solar energy production. All of the other renewable-energy technologies are either more expensive or have only limited potential for expansion. Wind power and photovoltaic (PV) have experienced an incredible drop in cost in recent years. By 2015, wind and PV systems should be able to produce a kilowatt hour of electricity for seven to ten (euro) cents. An energy mix of wind, photovoltaic, and backup capacity will then be in the same price range as an energy mix dominated by new gas and coal-fired plants.
Wind-power and photovoltaic technologies are thus far the two most important pillars of the Energiewende: Their share of renewable electricity production in 2020 will be around 70 per cent, and after that rise to 80 to 90 per cent. This development will fundamentally change Germany’s power system and the electricity market. Why? Because wind power and photovoltaic are fundamentally different from conventional energy sources: Their production of electricity depends on the weather. They have high investment costs, but almost no operating costs. Moreover, their production levels fluctuate in the course of every day.
It’s all about wind and solar! Stemming from this thesis about the energy transition, Agora Energiewende has derived 12 insights on Germany’s transition to an economy based on clean energy.
What topics are the focus of Agora Energiewende?
The work of Agora Energiewende focuses primarily on the electricity sector in Germany. We also take a look at the role of the European Union, as well as at the interactions of the electricity sector with the the heating sector and mobility. The following questions are central for our work:
- Energiewende in general: What are the costs and benefits of the Energiewende and how are they distributed?
- Electricity production: What are possible strategies for enhancing clean energy production? What is the range within the expansion of the different forms of renewable energy should take place - particularly wind and solar? How will green energy coexist with conventional power generation in the future?
- Electricity market and security of supply: Which market design will Germany have to create and implement in order to transform the energy system? How will we ensure a stable and secure power supply?
- Grids and storage: What is the right kind of transmission grid for the Energiewende? How will we store energy in the future?
- Efficiency and load management: What economic incentive system will increase energy efficiency and adapt the demand for power generation?
- Optimization: What is the optimal combination of production, transmission, storage, and load management in relation to the goals of climate protection, security of supply, and total cost?
- European Energy Policy: How do we integrate the German energy system into the European energy market in a sensible way?