German Energy Transition

The German term “Energiewende” has successfully made it into the English language meaning Germany’s ambitions to completely restructure its energy sector. More precisely, it describes the country’s “politically supervised shift from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy”1. Its literal translation “energy turn” visualizes the idea of a changing power path. The aim of the transition is to reduce security hazards as well as Germany’s dependency on energy imports.

The fundamental energy political shift of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government of Christian and Free Democrats was triggered by the nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan and the subsequent mounting public pressure. A number of German nuclear plants were turned off immediately whereas the rest of the stations were to be shut down by 2022. Investment in renewable energies, especially wind and solar energy, was highly promoted and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels) pursued.

An essential challenge of the energy transition is the expansion of the current national electricity grid. In order to ensure the reliable transport of generated energy within the country several billion euros need to be invested. Furthermore, storage technologies will require improvement if generated energy from renewable sources is to be used more effectively during times of high demand.

According to the former German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, “the move towards a new, regenerative energy supply will make the German economy more innovative and competitive” and therefore offer great export opportunities in the long run. The completion is however expected to take generations as the “Energiewende” is Germany’s biggest infrastructure project since post-second-world-war reconstruction.


“Energiewende” in a few headlines:

  • The burning of coal, oil, and gas is causing our climate to overheat. Our current energy supply is not sustainable. One major aim of the Energiewende is to decarbonize energy supplied by switching to renewable sources and reducing demand by means of greater efficiency.
  • The energy transition boosts green innovations, creates jobs, and helps Germany position itself as an exporter of green technologies.
  • Germany rejects nuclear power because of the risks, the costs and the unsolved waste issue. In addition, nuclear power does not have the potential to play a major role in future world energy supply.
  • Renewables reduce Germany’s dependency on energy imports, making Germany less vulnerable to unpredictably fluctuating prices for fossil fuels and to political influence from abroad.

Extract from “The German Energiewende Book” published by the Heinrich Boell Foundation

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