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Germany goes green

How has Germany's industrial nation ended up as a spearhead in renewable energy?


"What the Germans want, they get it." There are few places this slogan is so clearly against its borders as in the field of renewable energy, or in German: energy transition. This is an umbrella term that brings together the core themes of energy and climate, social and consumer economics and future-oriented business.

The list is sky high, not least thanks to the Paris Agreement, which aims to lower the total global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. Thus, Germany plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 to 95 percent per 2050. energy transition implies a dramatic paradigm shift. So how should the plan be implemented?

Development in turbot tempo. The overall goal is to gradually replace the country's energy supply, consisting of nuclear energy and fossil fuel (coal), with renewable energy – mainly wind power and solar energy. The new power sources must therefore be continuously integrated into existing energy systems. A key challenge is to ensure reliable, environmentally friendly and affordable energy. The sun does not always shine and the wind can calm. Flexibility will be alpha and omega for both supplier and consumer. The initiative is underway.

Today, the share of renewable energy in the electricity market in Germany is 30 per cent. The development has taken place at a turbot pace. At the turn of the millennium, approximately 38 billion kilowatt-hours were produced with renewable energy. By 2016, the figure had increased to just over 191 billion – five times as much. From 1990 to 2015, emissions of greenhouse gases have been reduced by 27 per cent, mainly thanks to the energy sector.

The Fukushima disaster paved the way for renewable energy in Merkel's Germany.

How did this development start in Europe's largest industrial nation? For decades, German society has been strongly influenced by the unity ideal; social consensus. This year, the Bundestag (the federal parliament) has passed several new laws, including the Renewable Energy Sources Act, the Electricity Market Act and the Digitization of Energy Changes Act. The laws reflect unity, but also allow for the different points of view. Of course, there has been – and is – a lot of noise around the theme. The major coal and nuclear energy suppliers see their interests threatened, and they have strong unions in the back. Although the concepts of clean energy supply and technical innovation are winning models on the way to the future, they have understood – but giants are usually not sprinters.

The green shift. Now it is not like that idea either energy transition came to the Germans completely randomly and out of the blue. Had it not been for the German environmental party Die Grünen ("The Greens"), which became an important factor in politics in the 1990s, the current situation would probably have been different. But in the 1998-2002 election, in a coalition between Social Democrats (SPDs) and the Greens, opposition to nuclear power found its place in the legislation. A limit was set for the life of nuclear power plants. At the same time, it began to rush to develop renewable energy if it wanted to prevent increased CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. In 2005, Angela Merkel came to power, at the head of the Conservatives (CDU and CSU), and the life of nuclear power plants was extended again. In 2011, however, came a sudden complete reversal in a way no one could predict: Fukushima. The disaster in Japan became a tragic basis for a major milestone in the energy sector in Germany: Merkel decided that nuclear power would go away as soon as possible. The social consensus did indeed have several cracks, primarily among Merkel's own party cousins, but renewable energy had undoubtedly come to stay.

Next phase. The organization of the new renewable energy sector was initiated and regulated by the state. Financial support and eco-electricity fees made it possible to venture out and establish security with a predictable market. This applied to larger companies as well as the individual consumer. Energy-intensive companies were largely exempt from fees, which helped them to conduct research and stimulate technical innovation. In record time, Germany achieved a global position as a spearhead in the modernization of the energy sector. The whole community went together. But it was a pilot project, and the next phase soon stood at the door.

Germany became a global spearhead in the modernization of the energy sector.

That phase is now. State-regulated support for the energy sector is over, for a number of reasons: The test model became incompatible with EU rules, renewable energy has become cheaper, and German authorities find it advantageous to open up to free competition by bidding for tenders. One renewal industry that had lulled itself into a notion of permanent comfort is awake with one light. The learning time is over. Individual consumers still pay relatively more for the electricity than companies do, and thus they contribute to the financing; still without significant complaints. Why?

Here, too, there are of course several explanations. Germany is consuming less and less energy, while business is growing. Support for large solar plants has fallen by 30 percent. As of 2013, electricity prices increased slightly. Electricity consumers who invest in their own solar or wind turbines pay neither electricity nor extra fees. The capital investment is a one-time expense and pays off over time. Consumers who buy their electricity can choose from hundreds of suppliers; they can contribute to consumption flexibility and to reducing their own electricity bill. Some important keywords here are energy efficiency, smart grids, smart electricity meters, smart homes. For energy remediation of houses, there are tax breaks. All societal infrastructure is integrated into the efficiency objective; housing, traffic and industry. The number of electric cars has increased tenfold since 2010. Last year, a temporary and controversial "purchase premium" was set for electric cars, financed by the state and car dealers, with the aim of speeding up the electric car industry. Until 2020, 17 billion euros have been set aside for energy-saving measures.

The future of the export nation. In 2015, as many as 330 people were engaged in German renewable energy projects. Investment in renewable energy generation now stands at $ 000 billion, while fossil energy is down to $ 288 billion. The export nation Germany is in full swing selling its know-how to other parts of the world.

In November 2016, Germany and all its direct neighbors, in addition to Sweden and Norway, presented the package "Clean Energy for All". The package contained a number of proposals for how energy policy in each country can be coordinated, in order to increase energy efficiency and modernize the electricity market. Norway supplies gas to Germany, which needs "bridge-building" energy in its renewable mix. Norwegian Statnett is embarking on a collaboration project with Germany, where a 700 kilometer long sea cable will ensure good climate solutions and secure power supply for both countries.

From 1990 to 2015, emissions of climate-harmful gases have been reduced by 27 percent.

Germany's industrial nation has fought where it is today, and the fight continues. Germany has agreed to pay the price of being a pioneer. But the locomotive energy transition er on rails, it is becoming more and more affordable, and locomotives also have to come first. Who knows, maybe the Germans are actually doing what they set out to do – reaching their proud climate goals, as a bonus to themselves and a gift to us all.

See also Germany's Ministry of Energy and Industry: www.bmwi.de/Navigation/EN/Home/home.html

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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