Germany has become known as a leader in the transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. On 30th April 2017, the country reached a new peak. It achieved a new renewable energy record by getting 85 percent of its energy from renewable sources including solar, wind, hydro and biomass.
A big contributor to Germany’s ability to break this new energy record is Energiewende, its energy turnaround, an ambitious plan to change the way the country produces and consumes energy to increase sustainability.
The plan calls for Germany to phase out nuclear energy, reduce reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels and encourage the use of renewables. They’re doing this to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and by as much as 95 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. The plan aims for 60 percent renewable energy consumption by 2050.
The plan also emphasizes the role of technology in the renewable energy revolution. As a country known for its engineering expertise, Germany has worked to speed along the development of renewable generation, energy efficiency and other related technologies, which other nations have now begun to adopt as well.
Today, renewables make up about 29 percent of the country’s energy consumption with 12.2 percent coming from hard coal and 11.4 percent coming from lignite, also known as brown coal. Natural gas makes up 22.7 percent, oil contributes 34 percent and nuclear represents just under seven percent.
To accelerate the transition to cleaner energy, Germany is now focusing on the heating and transportation sectors, in addition to electricity.
Easing the Transition
One of the biggest challenges of moving toward green energy is dealing with the economic impacts and the effects on those who work in the fossil fuel industries. In many regions, coal is still a major driver of the economy and a major source of employment, so naturally those people will resist phasing out coal.
Compared to some other nations, including the U.S., workers in Germany have more protections and programs in place that can assist if they lose their fossil fuel-related jobs. For German workers, unemployment benefits are more long lasting, retirement benefits are more secure and there are more job-training programs available.
Germany is also slowly phasing out its coal subsidies so that older workers can ease into retirement while younger ones have time to take advantage of job retraining programs rather than facing sudden lay-offs and mine shutdowns.
Germany has also decided to work with its neighbors to get through the energy transition. Twelve nearby nations, including Germany, have formed a sort of energy coalition through which each country has pledged to support each other and work together on solutions. They’re also connecting their transmission systems so they can send electricity back and forth across their borders. Germany is also part of the global Paris climate accord, in which most of the world’s countries vowed to reduce their emissions.
Additionally, there is strong public support for a greener energy system. This enables the German government and utilities to do more to transition to clean energy sooner. Even in the face of higher taxes, many Germans still support the Energiewende.
Another factor that allowed Germany to surpass its renewable energy record on April 30 was the fact that conditions were ideal for renewable generation. The north of the country experienced a lot of wind and sun, while the south experienced a good deal of warmth as well.
This weather allowed wind turbines and solar panels to operate efficiently and allowed for many coal and nuclear plants to stop operating entirely.
Some say that by 2030, days like these will be perfectly normal in Germany as the Energiewende continues to progress and more renewable energy comes online. Even on days with less ideal conditions, the increased renewable energy capacity will allow the country to produce clean energy at a high volume.
Exactly how common days like April 30 will be, of course, remains to be seen. In the meantime, countries around the world may begin to take cues from Germany’s energy transition initiatives.
Whether it’s a more comprehensive national plan, more assistance for laid-off workers or increased cooperation with other nations, other countries may start to follow Germany’s lead. This, some scientists say, is something that will need to happen if we, as a planet, are to avoid global climate change catastrophe.