Monday, November 4, 2013

Germany's Energiewende

As here in Ontario and most of Canada we “fiddle while Rome burns” over the aesthetic value (yes, they are an eyesore to some) of wind turbines on our local horizon, Germany proceeds with its breathtakingly ambitious far-sighted plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80- 95%  and convert to 60% renewable energy from 2010 to 2050. What’s not to like about this national approach, particularly with the emphasis on democratization through local production and ownership?


Energy transition in Germany

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Energiewende (German for Energy transition) is the transition by Germany to a sustainable economy by means of renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable development. The final goal is the abolition of coal and other non-renewable energy. Renewable energy encompasses wind, biomass (such as landfill gas and sewage gas),hydropower, solar power (thermal and photovoltaic), geothermal, and ocean power. These renewable sources are to serve as an alternative to fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and nuclear fuel (uranium).
Piecemeal measures often have only limited potential, so a timely implementation for this transition requires multiple approaches in parallel. Energy conservation and improvements in energy efficiency thus play a major role. An example of an effective energy conservation measure is improved insulation for buildings; an example of improved energy efficiency is co-generation of heat and power. Smart electric meters can schedule energy consumption for times when electricity is available inexpensively.
An example of a comprehensive approach is DESERTEC. This concept looks at dramatically expanding the production of electricity from adjustable solar thermal power plants in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Linking the electricity transmission networks of these regions would supplement the variable renewable energy available locally with surpluses and adjustable renewable energy sources from other regions.

The term

This term was the title of a 1980 publication by the German Öko-Institut, calling for the complete abandonment of nuclear and petroleum energy. On the 16th of February of that year the German Federal Ministry of the Environment also hosted a symposium in Berlin, called Energiewende – Atomausstieg und Klimaschutz (Energy Transition: Nuclear Phase-Out and Climate Protection). The views of the Öko-Institut, initially so strongly opposed, have gradually become common knowledge in energy policy. In the following decades the term expanded in scope; in its present form it dates back to at least 2002.
Energiewende designates a significant change in energy policy: The term encompasses a reorientation of policy from demand to supply and a shift from centralized to distributed generation (for example, producing heat and power in very small cogeneration units), which should replace overproduction and avoidable energy consumption with energy-saving measures and increased efficiency.
In a broader sense this transition also entails a democratization of energy: In the traditional energy industry, a few large companies with large centralized power stations dominate the market as an oligopoly and consequently amass a worrisome level of both economic and political power. Renewable energies, in contrast, can as a rule be established in a decentralized manner. Public wind farms and solar parks can involve many citizens directly in energy production. Photovoltaic systems can even be set up by individuals. Municipal utilities can also benefit citizens financially, while the conventional energy industry profits a relatively small number of shareholders. Also significant, the decentralized structure of renewable energies enables creation of value locally and minimizes capital outflows from a region. Renewable energy sources therefore play an increasingly important role in municipal energy policy, and local governments often promote them.


The key policy document outlining the Energiewende was published by the German government in September 2010, some six months before the Fukushima nuclear accident. Legislative support was passed in 2011. Important aspects include:
·                    greenhouse gas reductions: 80–95% reduction by 2050
·                    renewable energy targets: 60% share by 2050 (renewables broadly defined as hydro, solar                     and wind power)
·                    energy efficiency: electricity efficiency up by 50% by 2050
·                    an associated research and development drive

The policy has been embraced by the German federal government and has resulted in a huge expansion of renewables, particularly wind power. Germany's share of renewables has increased from around 5% in 1999 to 22.9% in 2012, reaching close to the OECD average of 18% usage of renewables. Producers have been guaranteed a fixed feed-in tariff for 20 years, guaranteeing a fixed income. Energy co-operatives have been created, and efforts were made to decentralize control and profits. The large energy companies have a disproportionately small share of the renewables market. Nuclear power plants were closed, and the existing 9 plants will close earlier than planned for, in 2022.