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April 1st, 2016

Renewable energy in Germany: Energiewende

During the 1970s, it became clear to many people that climate change was a reality and that its effects could be disastrous. The West German government of the time wanted to move to greener forms of energy, such as wind and solar power. In the following decade the Energiewende was born, an initiative to develop sustainable energy sources throughout the country.

The initiative

In an attempt to curb the negative impact of climate change and to show that an alternative energy supply was possible, an initiative was undertaken called Energiewende. The name was taken from a 1980 publication [1] by the Öko-Institut [2] and refers to the potential for energy transformation by moving away from nuclear and petrol-based energies to renewables, such as solar and wind, and to make them West Germany's dominant source of energy.

The German government set two clear objectives for 2050:

  • To make renewable energy a replacement of coal and nuclear energy production, by 2050, constituting 60 percent of primary energy consumption and 80 percent of total electricity.
  • To increase energy efficiency production in Germany by 2050 by 2.1 percent. To decrease the primary energy consumption by 50 percent from 2008 to 2050.

There were also nearer-term initiatives in Germany:

  • In 1998, the German power market was liberalised, such that power firms and grid operators were to be separate legal entities, which helped renewables to enter the market.
  • In 1999, the 100,000 Solar Roofs Programme was implemented and the Market Incentive Programme was launched, to provide financial support for renewable heating systems.
  • The Renewable Energy Sources Act (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz - EEG) came into force in 2000.
  • The Heat-Power Cogeneration Act was adopted in 2002.
  • The Integrated Energy and Climate Programme defined new targets, policies and support schemes for efficiency and usage of renewables.

The challenge

In the 1970s, there was concern throughout Europe over the prospect of climate change and, specifically, over the high levels of carbon emissions and the prevalence of coal and nuclear power as energy sources. The challenge was to find and develop alternative sources of energy that would be sustainable, have less impact on the environment, and make a realistic contribution to energy generation.

The public impact

The impact so far has included the following achievements:

  • Over 146 million tons of CO2-equivalent emissions were offset by renewables in 2013, 105 million tons of which were in the power sector alone. [3]
  • Germany reduced its carbon emissions by 27 percent between 1990 and the end of 2014. (Although they rose by one percent in 2015). [4]
  • Germany was the third largest market for solar thermal in the world behind China and the US. By 2014, more than 2 million solar thermal systems had been installed in Germany across approximately 18.4 million square metres.

Stakeholder engagement

The EU works along with the German Federal Environment Agency to reduce energy consumption in buildings. Some engagement from local governments, the EU and German citizens is illustrated below:

  • No single organization in Germany has the task of reviewing wind farm proposals for approval or rejection; instead, local governments decide where wind farms can be built and how they will be designed.
  • Overall, it is estimated that ‘energy cooperatives' - community-owned renewables projects - had leveraged more than €1.2 billion in investments from more than 130,000 private citizens by 2013. Furthermore, energy cooperatives are moving beyond power production to include grid ownership.
  • Internally, the EU has made significant progress: in recent years it has made clear commitments through a number of important legislative measures on renewables and energy efficiency measures and its long-term energy policy vision - energy roadmap 2050.

Political commitment

There has been a strong commitment by the German government, through the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi). [5] the economy and energy ministry, to promote energy efficiency resources with the help of the Energiewende organisation. It has initiated various research programmes, provided funding, and enshrined the commitment in legislation. The following examples demonstrate this commitment:

  • To conserve energy, power, water the German government sponsors energy audits and provides products to reduce power and water consumption.
  • In 2014, it imposed a limit of 100 MW on new biogas units.
  • It has implemented two important strategies:

    • to increase energy efficiency
    • to continue to expand renewables.

  • The research expenditure incurred for the Energy Research Programme amounted to €708 millions, out of which more than 70 percent was for promoting energy efficiency and renewable energies.

Public confidence

The German public is very favourably disposed towards Energiewende. Surveys show that people believe the project will not only provide economic benefits but may also help in creating jobs:

  • A survey conducted in 2009, among 378 businesspeople, researchers and politicians in Germany found that more than four-fifths believed that Germany has played a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Another survey, conducted in 2011, found that 79 percent of Germans believe that energy efficiency and combating climate change are good for economic growth and can create jobs.

A survey conducted by World Energy Council in 2015 found that 54 percent of Germans believe that Energiewende will have long-term economic benefits, as compared to only a third in 2014. This appears to demonstrate that citizens' level of trust in the Energiewende project is rapidly increasing.

Clarity of objectives

The Energiewende aims to promote alternative resources of energy in order to conserve the environment. The various targets that have been set by the German government are specific, measurable and consistent, for example:

    • Lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent to 95 percent by 2050
    • Fully phasing out the use of nuclear power by 2020
    • Decreasing the primary energy consumption by 50 percent from 2008 to 2050.

Strength of evidence

Various pilot projects and studies were undertaken to measure the impact and effects of renewable energy on Germany and how to curb pollution and CO2 without reducing the standard of living:

  • Showcase Berlin, an urban mobility pilot, which had 30 core projects, 15,000 electric vehicles and 3,700 charging points.
  • A study conducted in 2010 by Germany's Institute of Applied Ecology and corporate consulting firm, Prognos, in response to a request by the World Wildlife Fund - it was found that, in order to reduce energy demand, power supply should be replaced by renewables, to reach 95 percent reduction without reducing the standard of living.
  • A study was conducted by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Institute in Heidelberg, in cooperation with the Institute of Economic Structures Research - it was found that the consumption of energy-efficient resources would help in reducing energy imports by €4 billion by 2030.

However, there is no information on how the results from the pilot projects were used in the implementation of the Energiewende initiative.


There were a number of feasibility studies to support the initiative:

  • A study was conducted which found that transport emissions from transport could be reduced by 83 percent by 2050.
  • A study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology found that Germany's gas consumption could be offset by the growth of renewables by 2030. [6]
  • German researchers have estimated that the storage capacity in the country's current natural gas lines can contain enough gas to meet the country's power demands for four months.


There is a proper mechanism and governing structure in place to monitor the project, with skilled programme managers.

The Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety has various federal authorities, one of them being the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), which was established in 1974. The UBA provides support for the Federal Ministry for Environment, with regard to the preparation of legal and administrative regulations in the fields of climate protection, air quality control, noise abatement, waste management, water resources management, soil conservation, environmental chemicals and health-related environmental issues. It has a staff of 1,400, skilled in the relevant scientific disciplines.

An independent committee of four energy experts was also established to support the process and oversee the scientific initiatives.


There are effective functions in place to measure the impacts of the policy and various clearly understood indicators have been established:

  • The BMWi is responsible for monitoring the energy transition.
  • The federal government's monitoring process, Energy of the Future, supports the development of energy systems and checks on the implementation of the measures and their effects, and the progress made in attaining the targets.
  • Energy for Future is tasked with presenting statistical information so that it is clear to the layperson, to create an overview of the state of the energy transition.
  • The monitoring report is presented annually to the German Bundestag and the Bundesrat.

In December 2014, the federal government released a progress report, which will continue triennially, providing a comprehensive observation of the energy transition - with an assessment of whether Energiewende is achieving its objectives and what new measures need to be taken.


There has been a strong alignment between the actors involved in the initiative, and the government has taken various steps to promote the results, such as the segregation of utility firms to manage resources in a more energy-efficient  way:

  • The German utility company e.on was split into two companies in 2015, one for renewables and the other for conventional energy.
  • The state government of Baden-Württemberg took over the utility company, Energie Baden-Württemberg (EnBW), to pursue a greener strategy.
  • RWE (another utility company) has changed its business strategy to take into account the aims of the Energiewende.
  • Laws protecting the rights of tenants were revised in 2012 to help encourage building owners who rent their properties to invest in energy-efficient renovations.
  • Germany's development bank, KfW, provides low-interest loans for such renovations.

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