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Published on January 28th, 2015 | by Giles Parkinson


Subsidies For Renewables vs. Coal & Nuclear Subsidies In Germany (Graphs)

January 28th, 2015 by  

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

This graph comes from a newly released report from the Germany-based Greenpeace Energy, and highlights the extent of subsidies paid out to various technologies in the German energy market since 1970.

greenpeace-subsidies-590x286There is a huge controversy about the level of subsidies in Germany towards renewables as it undertakes its “energiewende” – energy transition – but the fact is that these subsidies pale in comparison to what has been paid to conventional technologies.

Conventional base-load technologies such nuclear (atomenergie in yellow) and black coal (steinkohle in black) have received more than twice the subsidies of renewables (erneuerbare in green) over time. The accumulated amount given to renewables only overtook brown coal (braunkohle in brown) in 2013. Very little in subsidies has been given to gas, the report says.

So how does this translate into household costs? If the subsidies to coal and nuclear were recognised in the same way as the subsidies to renewables, it would present a very different picture.

This graph shows how. The first on the left is the normal household cost, including standard charges – cost of generation, transmission and distribution, and the renewables subsidy (EEG-Umlage in green).

The household cost is pushed a nearly a third (second column) with the addition of subsidies to conventional fuels – coal and nuclear, with grants and tax breaks in red, and climate and other environmental costs in grey. The cost of subsidies to conventional fuels is budgeted to rise in 2015, while the cost of the green energy scheme falls slightly.


Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

  • eveee

    How is China nuclear power ambition doing? Badly. More delays.


    “Notably, however, it is 12 gigawatts below the target recommended by the State Council Research Office (SCRO) in 2011 and a very significant reduction on the prediction of 130 gigawatts suggested by officials the year before that. This decline points to significant issues at home that are working to constrain the construction timetable – and has implications for the industry’s activities abroad.”

    And its not just Western reactors that are falling behind…

    “In fact, since March 2011, construction has started on only seven new reactors in China compared to 10 in 2010 alone. While the ban has been lifted, construction inland has not resumed in part due to public concern over the safety implications of the ability to cool the reactor in the event of a major accident at sites dependent upon river water. No construction is expected to take place on new inland nuclear power plants at least until the end of the current five-year plan.”


    Plans are one thing. Realities are another.

  • eveee

    Here is the report in English.


    I wish the references were clearer.

    The paper gets most of its data from a Fraunhofer ISI report for the German Environmental Agency.

    The data for nuclear external costs comes from another Greenpeace paper titled

    External Koste der Atomicenergie

    which I can’t find online.

    Its hard to get a handle on nuclear external costs.

    There is a wide range because of controversy – many are industry supported papers.

    Still, when a mix of papers is reviewed, the mean of external costs in one paper comes out to 8.63c/kwhr.rc

    IMO, a little more research will show that external costs are significant relative to wholesale costs of electricity, and that negative external renewable costs are less. There needs to be a whole lot more data here, but many of these issues have been taken up in research in papers, with varying degrees of success. External costs are harder to assess.


  • eveee

    Peter – You are rambling off topic. What has rare earths in smartphones have to do with renewables?

    You have made my point for me. Very little.

    How much rare earths for solar?

    How much rare earths for wind?

    How much rare earths for nuclear? Coal? Oil?

    Thorium is involved in the mining of rare earths? What could that be for?

    Its obsequious to complain about rare earths and thorium while ignoring the larger health consequences of uranium mining that releases far more toxic radionuclides.

    You have not provided anything, yet you criticize others lack of research.

    I did. Talk about internet echo chamber whisper campaigns…

    9% of US usage went to magnets in 2013.

    65% went to chemical catalysts.


  • Billy Bangle

    Yes, I’ve just flicked thru the report, not a single reference. It’s political, not remotely scientific and should be taken with a grain of (possibly subsidised) salt.

  • Billy Bangle

    I’m skeptical. Can you point to an INDEPENDENT report which supports this or to a specific line in the German budget?

  • Bob_Wallace

    When you make a comment that essentially says the Sun does not shine nor the wind blow in China you label yourself. Perhaps you might wish to be a bit more careful about what you write.

    We build wind turbines and solar panels without REMs. Don’t let that issue to give you an excuse to dismiss renewables. And don’t overlook the fact that rare earth minerals are, in fact, not rare.

    China dominates the REE market because China underpriced other countries several years ago and caused mines and processing plants to close. Now with higher demand new mines and plants are opening around the world.

    The same thing happened with lithium. China became the low priced supplier and took over the market. Now with demand rising lithium mines and processing are returning to the rest of the world. Tesla will be getting its lithium from a Nevada mine.

    Did I make a claim that there were no industrial waste problems with manufacturing turbines or panels? Of course there are. But those problems are miniscule compared to the issue of uranium mining and processing. As well as the thousands of years it will take for radioactive waste to decay.

    Can you imagine the immense problem we would have were we to run the world on nuclear power for a century? We’d be screwing the generations which followed. We’re already leaving them a large enough problem.

    • Distorting what I write, hey! Jeesh! Why is it I should respect you and what you write? 🙂 If you are trying to convert, which you are trying to, it seems that you are gauche about it! 🙂 Yes, China will go wind/solar in a big way, but still 30 + nuclear plants will require some uranium, no matter how you slice it. But, I am not as a nuclear-lover as you think or love to paint me as, just a realist! You thinkn the Saudis are going to let the green industries have a free ride! Get ready to a $15 oil and try to compete! Considering the lack of intelligence and ethics, climate change will be rediculed (finded by the Saudis) until it cannot be ignored, but can the Eartth sustain 7 billion people? Millions will die. We are just economic units for the $ lovers. 🙂

      Can you imagine the minuscule pollution created by wind and solar today becoming widespread(dare I say a problem) because of feverish adoption? 🙂 Screwing the next generation would be happening too. Who cares? Everyone loves to have their mansions,…! Ask your GF or wife! Making smaller houses would reduce climate change, but not much money can be made and it is such an inconvenience! 🙂

      Bob, a word of advice, don’t try to paint others as idiots. It does not look good. Lying by omission (Oh! Did I say that there is no pollution?) is lying, even though it could be due to forgetfullness. In any case, they don’t teach ethics or respect and most people can’t spell both. Having an argument with some people who cannot admit they erred is tiring.

      Yes, lithium from Nevada! i AM SURE THAT MANY PEOPLE WILL BE BUYING stocks, hoping to make money. 🙂

      • Philip W

        What is crucial for houses is efficiency. If you have a big passive house, it’s not a big problem. And if you use renewable ressources (energy and materials) it’s even less a problem.
        No matter how you twist it, nuclear still doesn’t make sense anymore.

        Oh and please inform yourself before making wrong statements about Germany. It was already a done deal long before Fukushima happened. It was decided in 2000!

      • Bob_Wallace

        I didn’t distort anything you wrote. You claimed “China which cannot possibly meet its demand with wind and solar”. Copied from your post. I called “bogus”.

        Will SA drop prices to $15 in order to kill EVs? That would be very interesting. Of course all they would do is delay EVs. And most likely a number of countries would create a price on carbon that would swing the scale back to EVs.

        I’m not sure SA could supply the world with $15 oil, at least for long even if they do have the ability to pump it that fast.

        Are you aware of all the uncleaned up uranium mines we have in the US?

        Are you aware of the millions of tons and millions of gallons of radioactive waste we’re now storing?

        Are you aware that REM mining and processing in the US will be done under EPA regulations?

        Are you aware of global lithium deposits? Do you not know that the US used to be lithium producer before China undercut the market?

        Are you aware how large the lithium resource is in Nevada?

        Here’s the deal, Peter. When you blow in here making pronouncements that most of realize are wrong you should not expect any respect.

      • eveee

        You still have not explained why wind turbines that use no rare earths cannot be used. Many wind turbines do not use them. That means the connection to wind and rare earths is not mandatory.
        The same is true of EVs. I could go on.

        I can imagine that you have completely over hyped a non problem by inflating it, without proper comparison with other sources of energy to put it in context.

        We don’t need absolute comparisons. Yes, the impact isn’t zero. Lets look at the relative consequences. Thats the real basis of comparison and choice.

    • eveee

      Bob – Rare earths in wind power is a deceptive myth.

      A majority of rare earths are used for catalysts not magnets.

      The majority of wind turbines do not use rare earths.

      “Overall, doubly fed converters will remain the predominant technology in wind turbines, making up 78% of total wind converter shipments in 2017.”

      Doubly Fed Induction Generators (DFIG) don’t use magnets.

      Further –

      “In the first case, the high price of rare earth materials has led turbine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and generator manufacturers to reduce production costs by using less rare earth materials in their designs,” said Jared Kearby, analyst at IHS.”


      While the article offers that Full Power Converter turbines may increase in the future, its not a given, and not mandatory. The use of rare earths in the future is a choice based on economic and other reasons. The fact is, for now, rare earths are not used in the majority of wind turbines, and they don’t have to be rare earths in the future.

  • Canadian Wood

    I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding here: The grey bar in the
    second graph (Abbildung 2) are the external costs of conventional power
    generation, such as climate change, acid rain, etc (“Umweltschäden”).
    Not sure where this number comes from as it is difficult and controversial to put a dollar
    or euro-value on externalities.
    Only the red bar are direct financial subsidies and tax exemptions (1,2 €Cents/kWh).
    Just to get the facts straight.

    • Bob_Wallace

      So external costs should be ignored simply because the math is hard?

      “Coal-fired power stations cost the European Union up to €42.8 billion a year in health costs associated with coal-fired power stations. ‘The Unpaid Health Bill: How coal power plants make us sick’ — found that EU-wide impacts amount to more than 18,200 premature deaths, about 8,500 new cases of chronic bronchitis, and over four million lost working days each year.

      The total costs are up to €54.7 billion annually when emissions from coal power plants in Croatia, Serbia and Turkey are included.”


      How about we be honest with ourselves and include all the costs. Including the ones we’re passing on to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

  • Dallin Paul Jensen

    I understand that the author is stating cumulative subsidies for renewable are smaller than those given to traditional energy sources so far… but if you look at the slope of the lines you can see renewable subsidies right now are far higher than they ever have been for any energy source.

    • Martin

      Yes but that is the choice they made and it is good for their economy as well as several other things.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Germany did the world a favor and subsidized the hell out of PV solar in order to build a large market and bring down the price.

      Don’t just look at the subsidies. Look at how the wholesale cost of electricity has dropped in Germany. Those are permanent drops. The subsidies will end but much lower electricity prices are nailed down into the future.

      • Matt

        People don’t like to talk about the wholesale drop in electric in Germany because most is passed to companies not people. But it has had a big positive impact on the Germany economy.

        • Bob_Wallace

          A drop from 70 euro cents to 35 cents is about half of the 6 cent premium paid by retail customers in Germany. About half of the “renewable subsidy” pain has gone away thanks to the produced wholesale cost of power.

          Wind and solar should continue to drop in price. Long before the FiT programs are paid off German retail customers may be paying less for their electricity than they would have if they had stuck with thermal plants.

    • JamesWimberley

      Extrapolation from insufficient data.

      1. Because of the fall in the cost of wind and solar, and hence the FITs (around wholesale for the former, twice wholesale for solar, which is a reasonable VOST), the subsidies for new capacity are negligible, except for offshore wind. Did you read the sentence about 2015: “the cost of the green energy scheme falls slightly.”
      2. The weirdness of the EEG surcharge means that the reimbursement to utilities of the difference between FIT rates and wholesale can plateau, while the cost of theindustry exemption spirals.

      The right way of looking at German renewable energy subsidies is that they are now almost entirely a legacy burden for the next 20 years, and a very affordable one. The burden will start declining from 2030 as the earliest solar and wind installations, with sky-high FITs, fall out of the system.

      • Neptune

        The earliest solar FiT in Germany terminate in 2021. These are also the most expensive ones.

        One other thing: these solar panels will continue to produce power but they won’t be subsidized. Which means it will be better to self-consume power. Which means batteries. Ergo, there will be multi-GW market for battery energy storage in Germany starting around 2020, because FiT start to expire.

  • JamesWimberley

    The EEG surcharge cannot be identified with the subsidy to renewables. About a quarter of of it goes on a completely unjustified rebate for heavy, export-dependent industry – a category that has expanded to include municipal tram operators. Breakdown here (link). Furthermore, renewables have driven down wholesale rates, which fed through to retail rates, so the net impact on ratepayers is less.

    The opaque surcharge is the worst feature of the German EEG laws, which explains why nobody SFIK has copied it. It would have made sense as an automatic redistribution of the FIT burden, but politics has turned it into a monster.

    • onesecond

      Yeah, you are right. The EEG surcharge was perfectly designed till 2009. Then Sigmar Gabriel, the now Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economy sabotaged it to allow the utilies to make more mone from their non-renewable power plants.

  • Jim

    This is very interesting. Are there comparable studies for the US?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here’s my standard copy and paste response…

      Over the first 15 years of these energy sources’ subsidies, oil and gas received 5 times what renewables got (in 2010 dollars) and nuclear energy got 10 times as much. (Most of the renewable subsidies went to corn farms for ethanol, not wind, solar and other renewable electricity technologies.)

      Between 1918 and 2009 oil and gas received average annual subsidies of $4.86 billion. (92 x $4.86 billion = $447 billion)

      Between 1947 and 1999 nuclear received average annual subsidies of $3.50 billion. (53 x $3.50 billion = $185.6 billion)

      Between 1980 and 2009 biofuel received average annual subsidies of $1.08 billion. (29 x $1.08 billion = $31 billion)

      Between 1994 and 2009 renewables received average annual subsidies of $0.37 billion. (15 x $0.37 = $5.6 billion)


      Since the 2009 cutoff above wind and solar have been receiving subsidies in larger amounts. This is because many subsides are now based on new production. (If any new nuclear had come on line it would also receive PTC subsidies.)

      Out of curiosity I made a rough stab at calculating the amount wind and solar have received since 2009.

      Based on EIA production numbers from the beginning of 2010 through 2013 solar produced 16,625,000,000 kWh. During the same period wind produced 762,483,520,000 kWh.

      Ignoring the fact that some wind/solar farms chose the 30% ITC rather than the $0.025/kWh PTC and doing the math as if all wind and solar chose the PTC, wind and solar subsidies would have received subsidies (had their taxes lowered) by $19.5 billion.

      Between 1994 and 2009 renewables received subsidies of $5.6 billion. Adding in the 2010 to 2013 (roughly calculated) subsidies the total comes to $25.1 billion.

      Between 1947 and 1999 nuclear received subsidies equaling $185.6 billion.

      Wind and solar received 11% as much as nuclear when we carry the numbers to the end of 2013. Of course there are subsidies for nuclear which are not included in the $185.6 billion.

      Here’s another interesting statistic.

      In 2013 nuclear produced 19.4% of all US electricity. Wind and solar produced 4.33%.

      Nuclear has received 7.4x as much subsidy over time and yet is producing only 4.5x as much electricity. We are currently getting 1.6x more electricity per dollar subsidy with wind and solar.

      ’bout time I updated to include 2014. But nuclear and oil are still far ahead.

      And let’s not forget the $140 billion to $242 billion taxpayers spend each year treating health problems caused by coal. That subsidy totally dwarfs everything.

      • Offgridman

        . Thank you for posting this even if I wasn’t the one asking the question. There have many times of trying to explain to people about the inequities of subsidies with just the most recent figures.
        . Having this historical compilation is well worth seeing and saving.

      • eveee

        Bob – Thanks for doing the math to counter the subsidy myths, – especially the subsidy/generation myth. We should expect a mature technology to have no subsidies, and a developing technology to have subsidies. Instead we find renewables never received their fair share (2014 US wind PTC, for example), delayed until the last two weeks of the year), while mature techs received ample amounts as much as a century later, that should have no subsidies whatsoever.

        Subsidies to decades old techs are pure pork barrel. They are campaigning to end subsidies for renewables because they are losing to renewables in the marketplace, all the while hypocritically complaining about renewable subsidies.

  • I don’t mind renewables, but it s stories like these that upset me. Yes, nearly a 3rd (2nd graph) because this is about TWO types of energy (coal and nuclear). If one was to divide this in two, it would be only 1/6 for each, which means that renewables are getting about the same as nuclear OR coal.

    • GCO

      So? “Renewables” include hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass/biogas…

    • Bob_Wallace

      So what’s your thinking here, Peter.

      A technology that is over 100 years old and one that is over 60 years old should be getting a larger helping hand than an emerging technology?

      Furthermore, since Germans want to get rid of nuclear and coal they should be subsidizing renewables less?

      • I doubt that the plants of 50 years ago or 30 ago are the same that the ones that are buing built now. In fact, we know that this is not so. In fact, there are advances now, like this one, which is really promising: Reactor Design to Lower the Cost of Nuclear Power http://www.technologyreview.com/news/534366/resurrecting-a-meltdown-proof-reactor-design/ >@TechReview While it is true that nuclear has its weaknesses, renewables are not perfect. Mining for rare earth is not necessarily clean is it, for instance? How about the footprint per KW on ecosystems? So, has there been, are there and will there be any tsunamis in Germany? Why did they shut those down and use coal plants instead? Did that make sense? Throwing the baby with the bath water, INMO! Emocracy! Enough of the emotional decision making! There are millions of Chinese who want/need energy and renewables TODAY and in the near future could not possibly offer a compelling solution! Su and wind might be a future solution. They are phasing it in and that is good. Still, they have current needs and wind/sun won’t do today.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m not sure why coal and nuclear plant with advancements would need subsidies. After many decades don’t you think they should be ready to stand on their own? If not, perhaps it’s time to leave them behind.

          Germans don’t want to live with nuclear reactors in their midst. They made that decision prior to Fukushima. It’s their decision to make.

          Germany did increase its coal usage a bit (a small percent) but that was temporary and all over now.

          Perhaps you ought to study wind and solar a bit more. As well as taking a good objective look at nuclear. Wind and solar come on line much, much faster than does nuclear which means people get power much sooner. And for a better price.

          Nuclear is a slowly dying technology. That’s just the facts.

          • Muclear makes a lot of sense in China which cannot possibly meet its demand with wind and solar. Nuclear CAN be safe. Why do you wish to give renewables MORE subsidies? Are you MORE special? Fairness is what YOU and I should be talking about. Germany did not stop nuclear BEFORE Fukishima. That’s not true. Tell the truth. Perhaps you should study how popular is nuclear in China! It is not a dying technology and the link I send you indicate to you that it can be made better. Tell us how many windmills we would need to replace a nuclear plant. Tell us how many will China need to replace the 30 or so nuclear plants that are set to come on line soon. Where are your facts?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Peter, when you make a claim such as ” China which cannot possibly meet its demand with wind and solar” you get written off as a crackpot. Or, at the minimum, someone who is willfully ignorant.

            China’s nuclear program initiated when wind and solar were much more expensive than they now are. Reactors will be built due to institutional momentum. But pay attention to how rapidly China is ramping up wind and solar. I expect we’ll see a drastic decrease in new reactor construction starts over the next few years as the economics of renewable energy and China’s slowing economy make it obvious to the decision makers that nuclear is not the route to pursue.

            BTW, what I said is that Germany made the decision to close their reactors prior to Fukushima.

            When Fukushima melted down Germany sped up their timeline and closed some of their reactors ahead of schedule which caused a short period of increased coal consumption.

          • Casper

            Good god listen to yourself!! The Chinese cant even regulate the AIR in their own capitol! What will they do with the nuclear waste? Dump it in a river? Safety? Trains collide all the time over there. Things are being built without any need for it. Insanity.

          • eveee

            Peter – Get your facts straight. Wind surpassed nuclear in China in 2013. A lot of your ideas are based on misconceptions not rooted in facts. Where are your facts? Provide some references. Like this:



            Nobody is asking for more subsidies for renewables. They are asking for the same subsidies the rest of the energy industry gets and are not getting them.

            Nuclear needs more subsidies to be safe? Why do you wish to give more subsides to nuclear when it has failed?

            Check your facts first yourself before you make claims and don’t demand others to do your fact checking.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s get one more year of China’s wind/nuclear in place…

            Now, to be fair to nuclear there may be some catch up coming. Fukushima threw China off schedule a bit. But that wind line – that’s a rocket going for orbit. If one plotted them both as generation increase since 2006 or 2008 when wind starts its move then nuclear would look pretty sad.

        • eveee

          No. Stop it. Nuclear needs a new design to be competitive and subsidies to keep it alive after three decades and billions of dollars of subsidies?
          Rare earths? Renewables are not perfect? How about some numbers and references?
          Platitudes and FUD won’t do it.

          • Yes, those solar panels and windmills are made out of wood chips and thin air! You believe in miracles too, I suppose! 🙂 The link given earlier in the thread indicates that nuclear can be safer and can be more economical viable. That’s a nice graph! It is an endorsement of nuclear just as much as wind as both lines are going up if my eyes are not failing me! 🙂 Maybe these Chinese don’t know better! 🙂

      • Mint

        You keep saying Germany is going to get rid of coal and nuclear, but in reality the situation is far more asymmetrical.

        By the time they get rid of nuclear in 2022, they will have barely reduced coal production at all. Worse is that a big chunk of their coal power uses lignite. They also use hard coal as a peaker to fill in gaps when wind isn’t blowing, and prefer it over imported natural gas, so we’re not gonna see the same mechanisms that we do in the US (i.e. wind+NG displaces coal).

        There’s no definitive plan to get rid of coal in Germany, despite lip service.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Germany did make the decision to get rid of nuclear first, but that does not mean they have no plans to get rid of coal. 2022 is only 7 years away. Once they’ve replaced nuclear then they can go after coal.

          And it’s not like they are doing nothing about coal. Several years ago Germany decided to replace inefficient coal plants with more efficient “supercritical” plants as a way to decrease coal use and reduce emissions. The initial plan was that by 2020, 11.3 gigawatts would be built allowing 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity to be decommissioned.

          Due to the success of renewables it appears that the 11.3 gigawatt number will be lowered by at least 3 GW. Furthermore the newer plants will be more efficient, releasing less CO2 per unit electricity produced than are the ones they are replacing. And the new coal plants are partially load-following which further cuts total emissions.

          As of November 2013 some 49 power plants with a collective capacity of 7.9 GW have been submitted for decommissioning. Another 246 MW of capacity has been closed. Utilities in Germany need clearance from the government before closing and that process can take several months.

          Germany doesn’t have access to lower cost NG. They are going to use wind and solar to curtail coal until they are farther along and can close coal plants. Remember, the new plants are more able to load-follow which means that they can be throttled back when wind and solar are available.

          Germany’s coal plants are losing money. Renewables have torn the pricing system apart. Watch for Germany to start installing storage as new, more affordable storage technology comes on line.

          • JamesWimberley

            Not to mention that the gas is Russian. After Putin’s behaviour in the Ukraine, there is a very strong national security argument against relying on Gazprom.

          • Burried in the nice graphs and facts is the idea that the German people are paying a lot more than they have for their energy! You do know about that. Right? But, if they elect the people who want this I guess that is their right. I hope they have the place to accommodate all of those turbines (can cope with noise,…). True, they won’t have to put up with nuclear waste. If they can do it with wind, that would be good! You see, Bob, I am not the radical you paint me to be!

          • Bob_Wallace

            How about the $140 billion to $242 billion that US taxpayers fork over to pay for the health costs of coal? Or the €42.8 billion that EU members pay to treat coal-produced illness and work day losses?

            How about the more than $100 billion that Japanese taxpayers are going to have to cough up for the Fukushima cleanup?

            Germany retail customers are paying a bit extra (about 6 euro cents/kWh) for their renewable programs. But those are time-limited. As the initial FiT programs are payed off Germany (and the rest of the world) will enjoy much cheaper electricity because Germany (and Spain) did the hard lifting that was needed to bring down the price of solar.

            You showed a little hope. You used turbines rather than wind mills. But then you had to spoil it with the noise FUD.

    • eveee

      Renewables should be getting as much as coal and nuclear, they generate as much or more electricity than them. And nuclear and coal are old technologies. Are you saying that nuclear and coal are not able to make a profit after decades of subsidy? in that case, we should let the market extinguish them.

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