Clean Power

Published on April 23rd, 2012 | by Thomas Gerke


The Road to 2020 (Part III): Real Ambition

April 23rd, 2012 by  

The first two parts of this series took a closer look at the political changes that occurred here in Germany at the beginning of this still young decade. Last year saw a 180° course correction by the conservative federal government in terms of  energy policy. While the nuclear phaseout didn’t happen because of a sudden change of heart by all the politicans of the government coaliton, it did change the future of the German energy market significantly. This post will look at the implications of this decision on the energy market and why the goal of the federal government to reach a 35% share of renewable electricity generation is called anything but ambitious in Germany.

A 20% Gap that Will Be Filled

To understand the impact of the nuclear phase-out, it’s important to know the current relevance of nuclear power in Germany. Back in 2010, nuclear power still contributed about 22% or 133 TWh of gross electricity production in Germany. In 2011, this value already declined to 18% or 110 TWh. That means that nuclear power has a similar share in Germany as it does in the US (21% in 2012 up through March, according to EIA’s latest monthly power report). Of course, most reactors approach end of life within the next two decades in the US as well, so the question of how to replace them isn’t really limited to Germany.

According to the phase-out law, the remaining nuclear reactors will be shut down stepwise till 2022. While this obviously means that the nuclear energy age is coming to an end here in Germany, it also means that at least 20% of the entire electricity market of Germany is up for grabs over the course of 10 years. This alone is without a doubt quite a significant change and I think we all know that with change comes opportunity. But I am getting ahead of myself….

Implications for the “Nuclear States”

Now, to fully understand how this has changed the “game” for the push to renewable energy sources, we have to look beyond the national numbers and zoom in on the state level.

Nuclear power was never evenly spread across the nation here in Germany. Before 2011, there were 17 nuclear reactors spread across five states (out of Germany’s sixteen). Up until recently, all of those states were governed by the same center-right coalition that is currently in control of the federal government, with Angela Merkel as chancellor.

After the decision was made to accelerate the long-standing phase-out of nuclear power, 8 old reactors were shut down immediately. The remaining 9 reactors are positioned in only 4 states. While nuclear power made up about 20-25% of the nationwide electricity mix, it was more significant to those five states. It actually used to be and remains to be the backbone of the baseload electricity production capacity for those states, with a statewide share of approximately 50% of the electricity production.

For many years, the conservative governments of the southern states remained rather skeptical about renewable energy sources. They actively blocked the expansion of wind power by putting arbitrary restrictions in place that made the profitable use of inland wind farms impossible or held them up in a loop of permission procedures. In Hesse, the government even continued to denounce the potential of renewable energy as being enough to power the nation as late as December 2010.

Real Ambition

Since the summer of 2011, the situation has changed completely. The very same conservative government of Hesse now thinks that the potential of renewables is more than enough. Its new goal is to achieve a 100% renewable energy supply by 2050 and accomplish a renewable energy share of 20% for final energy consumption (excluding transportation) by 2020.

But the government of Hesse is not alone in its sudden change of opinion and goals. In fact, its goals are among the least ambitous among the German states. Most states obviously dislike the idea of importing a huge portion of their renewable energy from other states, when they could produce it closer to home. Especially since 10 years of massive renewable growth in some states has shown huge benefits for regional economies in terms of jobs, economic growth, and as a consequence: tax revenues for notoriously cash-strapped municipalities (in Germany business taxes are raised by the municipalities and every windmill, rooftop-solar, or biogas power plant is a business).

So, while the federal government favors offshore wind farms that offer a slightly higher capacity factor and the potential to become an export opportunity for German industry giants, the states have their own priorities. For them, it has become a unique opportunity to bring new investments, new industries, and new jobs to their “shores.” Furthermore, it has also become a question of who will become a domestic energy exporter, thereby creating cash inflows for their regional economies.

–> Continue reading about the German clean energy revolution on Page 2…

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About the Author

is a close observer of the scientific, political and economic energy debate in Germany and around the globe. Inspired by the life's work of the renewable energy advocate Hermann Scheer, Thomas focuses on spreading information that showcase the possibilities & opportunities of a 100% renewable energy system. Though technology is key for this energy shift, he also looks at the socio-economic benefits and the political, as well as structural barriers.

  • lftrsuk

    The Fairyland – but will it last for a thousand years? Germany cannot survive as a competitive industrialised nation on energy from renewables. This, along with a common desire for all nations of energy independance, will inevitably take them along the route of breeder reactor deployment. In a world of declining and ever more expensive energy from hydrocarbons, only the global deployment of emission-free breeder reactors can supply the 24/7 needs of urban dwellers in the industrialised nations of the developed world and the energy needs of the rapidly expanding urban dwellers in developing industrial economies.

    The only decision the people of Germaqny will have to make, along with the rest of us is – will the breeder reactors be IFRs of LFTRs? –

    • Bob_Wallace

      Countries with the lowest energy costs will have a competitive advantage over those companies which continue to use fossil fuels and to build super expensive nuclear facilities.

      Germany is stealing a march on the rest of the developed world by moving rapidly to renewable energy.

    • this comment is full of misstatements or outright lies.

      please see:

      fact is: nuclear is expensive, renewables increasingly cheap (cheapest sources of electricity in many places now); the competitive advantage is for countries with more renewables.

      baseload power is becoming a problem, not a help:

      what is needed is easily dispatchable power, not likely to come from nuclear of any sort.

  • Bill_Woods

    “Germany Building 17 New Coal, 29 New Gas-Fired Power Stations”

    Coal: 16 GW
    Gas: 8 GW
    Wind: 7 GW

    So much for the Energiewende.

    • ThomasGerke

      Hi Bill,
      What do you mean with “Germany is planing”? Who is “Germany” in the article you posted? Germany isn’t a planned economy you know.
      The article you posted is based on an interview with the BDEW. That’s the main lobbyist organisation of the conventional energy corporations that dominate the conventional electricity production.
      There’s absolutly no doubt about the fact that E.On, RWE, Vattenfall,… would love to build new coal power station. If you read the article abit more critically, you would notice that the projects descriped are in limbo due to the introduction of renewables. They basicly make those investments unprofitable and too risky.

      Do you really think that the wishes & the desires of the conventional energy corporations that are loosing marketshare due to the introduction of renewables are the defining element of the Energiewende?

      The wisches of the very same companies that are represented by the BDEW controll only 6-10% of the existing renewable energy capacity. So what does this tell you?

  • Jeroen

    I hope that the Germans with there green electricity can help us in the Netherlands to close Coal and Natural gas plants. I don’t expect anything from our government!

  • Matter26

    So the 20% nuclear gap will be filled with renewables. And how much coal will those renewables be replacing?

    • ThomasGerke

      It’s not a simple matter of how many TWhs… an increasing capacity of wind & solar makes coal power unprofitable because it reduces the amount of load-hours / the capacity factor.
      That way renewables are preventing new investments in coal and existing plants might be shut down. I will write about this in the next part of the series.

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