Turning German Energy Around
The Energiewende – Germany’s energy transition - is still under pressure, even though the German government recently confirmed their CO2 emissions target (40% lower than 1990 levels). To reach this desired target, Germany needs to increase efficiency in the building sector, restructure its distribution network, phase out dirty supplies like lignite, but also ensure that renewable energy develops in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Germany's energy sector has been undergoing an exciting transformation. Thanks partly to the country's EEG (Renewable Energy Act), over the last 15 years there have been massive drops in the cost of renewable energy and increases in efficiency and availability. The EEG has also contributed to the creation of about 370.000 jobs and the generation of high revenues for communities and regions by saving costs for energy imports and tax revenues. Growth in the sector has been so strong that renewable energy sources made up 23.4% of all electricity generation in 2013, and 27.3% by 2014, moving lignite from its first place status. Today, wind power, bio and solar energy are the main renewable energy sources in the country.
Because of the rise in renewable energy sources, the Ministry of Economy and Technology is considering the use of new energy market instruments. For example, introducing calls for bids, first for solar parks, is a pilot project which will be used to see how it works. Once this has been tried and tested, calls for bids will also be made for other renewable energy sources, e.g., for wind power.
Increasing the share of renewable energy in the electricity generation sector will require further expansion, especially of wind and solar power. For a smooth transition it is essential that good planning on regional and local levels be at the forefront because few areas remain where there has been little conflict between the industry and residents or nature. It is imperative that any expansion be based on a good planning system on regional and local levels taking environmental aspects thoroughly into account.
The development of renewable energies also makes it necessary to expand and improve the existing electricity grid. Most of Germany's renewable electricity is produced in areas (especially in northern and eastern regions) where it is not used and so transported to densely populated and industrial centres in the west and south. However, expanding the electricity network to access new supplies that can be delivered where needed could cause environmental problems and conflicts. Recently improved planning and public participation schemes must prove that they work, i.e., that grid extension is environmentally safe and that local residents are on board.
But electricity generation is behind other energy sectors such as transportation and construction, where heating, warm water supplies and cooling are responsible for the greatest energy consumption. In these sectors, Germany still has a long way to go, but it is on its way and energy efficiency and energy savings are crucial and have high potential for helping establish an environmentally friendly Energiewende.