Clean Power

Published on October 23rd, 2013 | by John Farrell


3 Reasons Germans Are Kicking Ass & Taking Names With Renewable Energy

October 23rd, 2013 by  

Germany is racing past 20% renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing “billions.” But often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country’s relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).

How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?

1. It’s about the cost, not the price

Most news stories focus on the cost of electricity in Germany, which has some of the highest rates per kilowatt-hour in the world.  But they don’t note that the average German electricity bill – about $100 a month – is the same as for most Americans.  Germans are much more efficient users of energy than most, so they can afford higher rates without having higher bills.  (Note to self: check out options for energy efficiency).

2. It’s about vision

Germany doesn’t just have an incremental approach to renewable energy, but a commitment supported by 84 percent of residents to get to 100% renewable energy “as quickly as possible.”  A few U.S. states have renewable energy visions (e.g. 33% by 2020, 25% by 2025) that approach Germany’s, but they’re mired in the notion that despite enormous savings to society in terms of health and environmental benefits, renewable energy shouldn’t cost any more today than conventional, dirty energy on the utility bill.  Germans have taken the long view (about energy security, price volatility, etc).

3. It’s about ownership 

I lied in #1.  Support for Germany’s renewable energy quest isn’t about cost of energy, but about the opportunity to own a slice of the energy system.  Millions of Germans are building their retirement nest egg by individually or collectively owning a share of wind and solar power plants supplying clean energy to their communities. Nearly half of the country’s 63,000 megawatts of wind and solar power is owned locally, and these energy owners care as much about the persistence of renewable energy they own as they do about the energy bill they pay. Not only do these German energy owners reduce their own net cost of energy, every dollar diverted from a distant multinational utility company multiplies throughout their local economy.

Ownership of Germany's Renewable Energy Capacity
John Farrell, ILSR

Not only does local ownership flip the notion of energy costs as consumers become producers, it also flips the notion of political ownership. Three-quarters of Germans want to maintain a focus on “citizen-managed, decentralized renewable energy.”

The tunnel vision on cost so prevalent in the press reflects the perspective of incumbent utilities, whose market share declines as their former customers produce their own power. It’s a story that plays out in the U.S., when debates over new power plants focus narrowly on the cost per kilowatt-hour rather than how an individual or community can retain more of their energy dollar.

It may seem that Germany is going renewable “at all costs,” but only if we are resigned to being energy consumers.  Because their and our energy transition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take charge of our energy future.  That’s priceless.

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

  • GaelanClark

    Okay……so……..with all of this renewable energy and all……..has Germany reduced the CO2 they pump into the environment?

    Because the plan was to reduce CO2…….wasnt it?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Well, yes they have. Germany’s CO2 emission levels have been falling since the 1990s and were down 2.4% from 2011 to 2012.

  • LMADster

    hmmm… just 3 weeks ago the “Greens” got clobbered in the last election from a historical high of 16% to just 8% – yeps Greens are “Kicking Ass & Taking Names” alright.

    FYI – Killing off nuclear has push coal reliance back over 50%

    And finally Europe spends $300 Billion (with a B) on “green” every year and will do so for the next 90 years, all to reduce the temp by .005 C.

    • A Real Libertarian

      Well nuclear is powered by kitten tears and orphan screams, so that’s clearly unacceptable.

      • Riiiiight, did you forget fukushima? If safety standards in nuclear are so great I’d recommend everyone observe what took place at San Onofre. We fool ourselves into believing nuclear is safe.

        • GaelanClark

          Do you onow anything about fukishima? Do you realize that it was a first generation reactor that should have been mothballed years ago? Do you realize that an earthquake and subsequent sunami destroyed the facility……along with a town of about 30k people?

          So when hysteria drives germans to immediately mothball all of their reactors when NONE of them were in any “fukishima” type danger is ludicrous.

          By the by, with all of this renewable energiewende going on and all…….has der krautlanden reduced CO2 emmissions or increased them?
          (Hint……hint…….hint………UP) WOW WOW WOW

          • Bob_Wallace

            Your post suffers from a lack of truthiness.

            The first nuclear reactor was built in 1942, the Fukushima reactors came on line in 1971 so they are hardly “first generation”.

            And with the industry calling for reactor lifespan to be increased from 40 to 60 (even 80) years claiming that 40 year old reactors should have been mothballed years earlier rings very false.

            Do you realize that the area where the Fukushima reactors were built, and inadequately protected from tsunamis, had been hit earlier with a massive tsunami and that both the government and reactor owners knew that history?
            Do you realize that the citizens of Germany were hit by the fallout from Chernobyl? And that they are still experiencing problems with radiation from that meltdown? The after watching one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world lose control of their reactors can you understand that they decided that enough was enough?

            And, yes, Germany has been bringing down their CO2 emissions. Yes, there was a small uptick in 2013. Do you understand “noise”?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s see if we can get you up to speed on Germany’s CO2 emissions. See that second line from the bottom? The one that is sloping downward?

            That’s Germany’s dropping CO2 emissions.

          • phrasing

            Your chart shows France’s CO2 emission are half these of Germany. Doesn’t France have lots of nuclear power stations?

          • Bob_Wallace


            And they’re preparing to close a lot of them and replace them with renewables.

          • phrasing

            We shall see 🙂

          • autolycus3

            Carbon emission actually rose last year.

            Take a look at this site


          • Bob_Wallace

            Change rarely follows a straight line.

            Take a look at the graph below. It only goes to 2010 but you can see that there are multiple times that on a year to year basis CO2 levels rose in German since their peak, but overall emissions continue downward.

            Germany continues to install wind and solar. Their CO2 emission levels will continue to fall.

            We should all be doing as well as Germany.

          • autolycus3

            The E.ON website reveals the following:
            It give the increase in charge to the average German household between 1998 and 2012 at about 50%
            It also breaks down the two elements. Generation, storage and supply rose by 9%.
            Carbon tax, VAT, Power tax etc rose by 179%..


          • Bob_Wallace

            What’s your point?

          • autolycus3

            This makes clear that the substantial increase in the charge was due largely to the peripheral costs imposed on the company, largely in support of the vast wind source. This is also true of the high charge in Denmark, the most costly in the EU zone..

          • Bob_Wallace

            But that’s not true. Only a portion of the cost spread between the retail price of 0.265 euros and the wholesale price of 0.086 euros in Germany is due to renewable subsidies. Out of the 0.179 euro difference only 0.053 is due to renewable subsidies. About one third.

          • autolycus3

            Taken from E.ON balance sheeti

            Charge to consumer
            1998 E49.90
            2012 E75.12 increase of 50.5 %

            Generation, supply etc
            1998 E37.65
            2012 E41.33 increase – 9.7%

            VAT, renewable energy charge, power tax,Concession fee etc
            1998 E12.25
            2012 E34.18 increase – 179%

            In the same report they say the the price of gas fell.
            Taking 2005 price as 100.
            2008 – 132
            2011 – 124.

          • A Real Libertarian

            You are seriously compering:
            1998-2012, 1998-2012, 1998-2012 and 2008-2012?

          • autolycus3

            The price of gas is given with those dates by E.ON not me.
            The relevant figures, which you choose to ignore, give the striking contrast between increase in cost of generation and supply at 9% and those of the ancillary 179%.

          • A Real Libertarian

            Again… 2008?

            And how much is the renewable energy charge compared to the rest?

          • Bob_Wallace

            What exactly is your point?

          • Bob_Wallace

            And at the same time wholesale and industrial electricity prices have been falling thanks to more renewables on Germany’s grids which allows them to spend less for fossil fuels.

            If your point is that German retail customers are not being treated fairly because they are being asked to pay all the costs for renewable installations while industrial customers pay none of the costs but enjoy decreasing cost, it’s a valid one.

            If that’s not what you’re saying, I’m not understanding you.

          • autolycus3

            I am not saying anything. I give you words and figures that you can see for yourself on the E.ON website. It shows simply that the cost to the consumer rose between 1998 and 2012 by 50.5%, and that there were two elements

            Generation, supply etc
            1998 E37.65
            2012 E41.33 increase – 9.7%

            VAT, renewable energy charge, power tax,Concession fee etc
            1998 E12.25
            2012 E34.18 increase – 179%

            Those are the figures. Do I need to tell you that the substantial increase was not in generation and supply, but in the many and varied extra charges arising from the renewable element. There was a more comprehensive analysis in The Economist a few weeks ago that you should read. It also states that last year there was an increase in carbon emissions.

            I am giving you reliable published figures – make of them what you will.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, were someone to lump all the taxes into the renewable bucket then they could blame renewables for the high price of electricity couldn’t they?
            However that wouldn’t be right. German retail electricity prices were high due to taxes and quasi-monopolies long before renewables came on the scene.
            From a 2009 Economist article about the high price of electricity:

            “The main reason Germany’s electricity market is not working as it should is the lack of competition.”

            “A second problem is that Germany’s biggest electricity generators also own the networks that distribute electricity. Critics argue that this gives them a huge advantage over independent producers…”

            “… over the longer run, ambitious plans to increase the share of electricity from renewable sources may erode the dominance of the country’s four biggest electricity generators. Germany hopes to get as much as 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and although few in the industry think the target will be met, there is nevertheless likely to be a huge investment in new generating capacity over the coming decades.”


          • autolycus3

            I really am beginning to think that you can’t read. The figures provided by E,ON show the cost elements in 1998.and 2012. Generation etc rose by 9% ; the other elements derived from the cost of renewables rose by 179%

            This distribution of cost was also acknowledged by Denmark..
            Don’t bother to reply. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see..

          • Bob_Wallace

            I admit that I’m having a lot of difficulty understanding what you have been writing. English is not your first language?

            Now, what do we know about the price of electricity in Germany?

            Wholesale and industrial prices have been dropping thanks to more renewable generation in the system which is allowing utilities to purchase less fossil fuels.

            There are a variety of taxes that retail customers pay but which are not charged to industrial customers. All the subsidy costs for renewables are charged to retail customers but none to industrial customers, even though industrial customers are benefiting from lowering wholesale costs.

            The renewable subsidy is a small percentage of the tax addition put on the retail cost of electricity. 0.053 euros out of the total 0.179 euro energy tax.

            If you want to complain about the retail cost of electricity in Germany, fine. But point your complaints toward the places where it belongs – toward industry which is not carrying its share of the load and toward non-renewable taxes.

        • phrasing

          How many people have been killed at San Onofre, even Fukushima come to that?


          • Bob_Wallace

            Several people were killed during the evacuation at Fukushima.

            What’s your point? Obviously you recognize that nuclear energy is dangerous.

          • phrasing

            ” Obviously you recognize that nuclear energy is dangerous.”

            No it is not.

            Forget Eagle Deaths, Wind Turbines Kill Humans [1]


          • Bob_Wallace

            Come on. Containment domes, multiple emergency systems, armed guards, jet fighters standing by to intercept large aircraft off course and heading toward reactors. Chernobyl, TMI, Fukushima.

            Eagle deaths are minor. Wind turbines kill far fewer birds per unit electricity produced than does coal and nuclear.

          • phrasing

            Nuclear energy looks pretty darn safe to me :

            How Deadly Is Your Kilowatt? We Rank The Killer Energy Sources [1]


          • Bob_Wallace

            Nuclear certainly hasn’t killed anything like the numbers killed by coal but that does not mean that nuclear is safe. It clearly is not. We have to go to extraordinary lengths to protect ourselves from nuclear energy.

          • phrasing

            “We have to go to extraordinary lengths to protect ourselves from nuclear energy.”

            Which makes nuclear extraordinarily safe compared to most other sources of energy.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You’ve used up your silly allowance for the day.

            Now brush your teeth and go to bed….

          • phrasing

            I hope that was a joke, as your statement could be read to be quite insulting.

    • Vivi

      Lies and nonsense. You either have no clue at all what you’re talking about, or you’re a troll. Your numbers are very easily checked and disproved.

      The Greens had 10,7 % of the votes in the 2009 federal election (which was the first time ever they made it into the double digits), and got 8,4 % now. That’s still slightly above their result in 2005 (8,1%), so not really that much of a set back. Also, a couple of weeks before the election, they were at about 12 % in the polls, so people aren’t against their message in principle. They just really, really messed up their election campaign, by asking for higher taxes from the upper middle class (their traditional voters) and especially making public the results of an internal investigation of contacts to possible pedophiles that the party (and in particular its leader during the election) had 30 years ago when they were a bunch of chaotic grad students, less than a week before the election instead of keeping it under wraps for a few more days. That was admirably honest, but political suicide.

      Yes, they had 15-20 % in the polls for a while right after Fukushima, but that’s part of the reason why Merkel made a 180 on the topic of nuclear power – because there were a couple of state level elections scheduled around that time and she didn’t want the opposition to gain too much ground. (They still did, though.) (Delegates from state governments make up the Bundesrat, which can block parliament decisions in a lot of cases, so every state the federal ruling coalition loses, makes it harder for them to push through new laws.) Similar poll results came in for the Pirates right after the banking crisis, and they gained seats in the Berlin city-state government. At times like those, long away from any federal election, these polls and local elections are used by voters as warnings to the ruling party. I.e. “Do what we want, or you’ll lose the next election.”

      The ruling conservative CDU actually seems to have prefered to get the Greens in the government coalition this time around. (Because their traditional partner, the free-market-capitalist / big-industry-friendly FDP, was the party that REALLY lost spectacularly this time. They’re not even in the federal parliament anymore, after losing about 70% of their votes compared to 2009 (14,6% -> 4,8%). And they lost all their government participations in the individual German states, too, exept for one that hasn’t had elections since 2010. This was the only party who was openly trying to put a break on the Energy Transition, by the way.) Sadly, the CDU-Green coalition negotiations didn’t work out this time around. Not because of any huge disagreements on environmental issues, though. (They couldn’t find common ground on immigration/asylumn policy, because the new leader of the Greens is a Turkish immigrant who understandably wasn’t going to give up on his principles there.) But it’s still historic that they even got this far. Before the election, nobody really expected the Greens and conservatives to consider working together at all, since they used to be worlds apart. But the CDU knows that they can’t afford to stand against the Energy transition anymore, if they want to stay in power.

      Coal burning for electricity may have gone up – I don’t know, I haven’t seen the actual numbers other than that it was like 1 TWh more in 2012 than in 2011. However, the reason for that is a) the US is dumping cheap coal on the European market because it’s burning shale gas domestically. Since the gas price is much higher in Germany (it’s automatically linked to the oil price), that unfortunately makes coal the cheapest fossil fuel for the big energy providers to use. So they aren’t investing in gas, as was originally planned. Also b), brown coal mining rights in Germany run out in a few years, and the old brown coal plants have a specific number of hours they may be working in total (assigned by the EU), not a certain number of years until they have to be closed down. Since the wholesale price of electricity is in freefall and will only become less and less as other countries start installing renewable energy capacity, the coal mining industry and coal plant owners try to make as much money as they can in the time they’ve got left, burning through their allowed plant running time instead of running it only when needed, and trying to make at least some profit by exporting their electricity to neighboring countries where the prices are still higher. So they’re burning far more coal than Germany actually needs. Unfortunately, there aren’t such strict security laws about coal plants like there are for nuclear plants, so the government can’t force the fossil fuel energy providers to switch off the dirty coal plants before they’ve used up their allotted running hours.

      However, as far as I know, at least 20 of the 26 recently planned new coal plants have been scrapped. And there have been no new coal plant plans started since Fukushima. The few new coal plants that are still being build are supposed to replace old, less efficient coal plants at the end of their running time. So that they’ll at least produce the same electricity with considerably less coal / carbon emmissions.

      As for the EU subsidies for green technology: According to the recently leaked (and then censored) paper from the EU Energy Commission, the EU spends 30 billion annually on renewable subsidies. At the same time, it subsidises nuclear with 35 billion, and fossil fuels with 26 billion (not including indirect subsidies like covering the public health costs resulting from coal burning through health insurance fees, and spent nuclear fuel storage / transport security paid for through taxes).

      This scandal broke less than 2 weeks ago. Try to pay attention, will you?

  • Doug

    In the Second World War, a key factor leading to Germany’s defeat was the lack of oil. In the 21st century, Germany is not only dependent on foreign sources of oil, but also natural gas. Moving to renewables is also about national security and self-preservation. All nations should strive to be independent on energy, food and water. These basic needs must be met internally. History does not look kindly on countries that fail to secure these basic things.

    • Vivi

      It’s also about world peace and indirect development aid. By driving down the market price of green technology through economies of scale and by Germany acting as a laboratory to hammer out a workable policy for a country’s transition to renewable energy, it will hopefully become easier for other, less wealthy countries to make the transition as well and become less dependent on fossil fuel imports. That would reduce the overall need for oil wars or things like arming terrorist groups in Afghanistan against the Soviets so that the US would eventually get access to the area to build a pipeline. If nobody needs fossil fuels anymore, there would be no reason to fight over the middle east, and maybe people there would also be less angry at the colonial powers if they were left to govern themselves in peace. Plus, in a world were nuclear plants aren’t necessary to cover the electricity needs of a sunny country, politically worrying places like Iran wouldn’t have an excuse to build a nuclear program.

      Germany can’t (officially) take part in non-defensive wars outside its own borders – it’s actually against the German constitution given to us by the Allied Powers after WWII – but we can do this to try and help with international security. (Yes, there were German soldiers sent to Afghanistan and Kosovo. These are officially called “war-like situations”, not wars, by the German ministry of defense. The government coalition who agreed to this hasn’t had a chance to be reelected since, because the public was so outraged. That’s why Merkel’s normally pro-US government wouldn’t agree to take part in Iraq.)

    • Just my opinion…. Im less interested in independence than sustainability. But one could drive the other.

  • They also don’t have republicans in Germany.

    • I was about to say “they don”t have a vast sector of the government in the pockets of thousands of lobbyists paying them to claim that any energy that isn’t fossil based is just a commie-atheist scam in Germany.”

      But your way is shorter.

      • Vivi

        Oh, I wish. Unfortunately, a lot of CDU politicians do have ties to big industry and big energy and get financial support from them (and the SPD has traditional ties to coal labour unions). Our current minister of the environment and the EU Energy Commissar do their very best to put a break on the Energy Transition. This is why we have the problem with thousands of industry electricity consumers being excempt from contributing to the renewables’ surcharge, far more than the system was originally designed for, thus increasing the surcharge for household consumers and giving opponents populist ammunition against the transition.

        Still, at least our conservatives can’t be quite as obvious in their lobbying for industry interests. The libertarian / free-market-capitalist FDP, who were the only major party not clearly in favour of the Energy Transition (at least in public), lost out big time during the last election. So, if you don’t want to lose the goodwill of the population, you need to support your industry cronies in secret, not publically argue against the majority oppinion.

        It also helps that we still have public tax-payed television channels that take their investigative journalism seriously, and do their best to educate the public and disprove the lies and half-truths published by the more populist tabloids owned by big industry groups. (Like “Der Spiegel”.)

    • Ivor O’Connor

      German’s don’t have a vast matrix where two parties acting as good-cop & bad-cop inspire blind hatred towards the other party. Average citizen in the American matrix doesn’t realize both parties are totally bought by the corporations because the only thing playing in the Matrix are escapism shows and minute plus warning messages on the latest anti-depressive medicine.

  • JamesWimberley

    Add one more factor. Germany subsidized wind and solar with above-market FITs for two decades. But costs have fallen – in the case of solar, very largely because of the German policy – so far that the subsidy for new onshore wind is nonexistent and for solar trivial, once you allow for a reasonable value-of-solar premium. The EEG surcharge keeps going up because renewables keep driving down the wholesale price, but for consumers the two cancel out now (see So German electricity consumers have to bear a large legacy burden from past high FITs, but that’s it. This is estimated by opponents at €130 bn, so that’s an upper limit. Germans are in effect paying off a large 25-year fixed mortgage. What they have bought for it is priceless – a major share in an option for a sustainable future for the world.

    • Matt

      And of course when opponents high ball the 130bn “estimate” they don’t remove the cost i would have taken to build, fuel and run the coal plants that would have been required if Germany had not built PV and wind. It is like in the US when people compare the cost of a paid off coal plant with a new PV or wind, it is just a way to mess with people so they don’t see how easy it is now.

    • And one other point to raise here.

      Germany’s aging and problem-plagued nuclear plants cost a fortune to keep operating, they were frequently offline and each electricity consumer’s electric bill had a surcharge to cover nuclear power plant maintenance added to it (and will for some time) to help defray the continuous costs of nuclear power in that country. Now all the nuclear plants in Germany are to be decommissioned by 2045, and that too will cost a huge sum of money. So those surcharges will continue well past 2045.

      The cost to keep Germany’s nuclear reactor fleet running, would have been the highest cost of all.

      People point to the FiT program as costly. But in context, it is almost nothing — once it is compared to the nuclear alternative. As the FiT is ending in Germany, soon it will be a barely remembered blip, on the path to a clean energy future.

      Cheers, JBS

      • A Real Libertarian

        Actually, they’re going to be fazed out by 2023.

        • Vivi

          He means the costs of taking the phased-out nuclear plants apart and storing all that irradiated building material as safely as possible, which will take a couple of decades. Even just storing the last spent fuel rods will take 5 years at the minimum, because you have to cool them down in pools first for a few years before you can move them. (Fukushima is just starting with the first attempts of extracting a few of the oldest spent fuel rods from the plant’s cooling pools now, 2 years after electricity production was stopped.)

    • Wardawg02

      Your link is broken – it goes to a 404.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Different outlook in Germany. Not only do you take your kitchen with you. You usually only buy one set of furniture, when you finally move out of your parents house or build on to it, and have it for life. They save up and buy once. The idea of buying your energy once via solar panels and having them for life fits very neatly into their mindset.

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