Germany's Energy Transition: One Year Later
A discussion featuring energy policy expert Professor Miranda Schreurs focused on Germany’s energy transition plans from nuclear to renewable power and how this shift affects the European energy economy. The event took place at the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) on May 21, 2012, in New York.
Co-Sponsor: American Council on Germany
The European continent is highly energy-interdependent within its member states and depends on energy imports from non-European areas, such as Russia and the Middle East. A transition in Germany’s energy situation also influences European decision-making in energy policy: “The energy transition in Germany is just beginning, and the world is watching,” said Professor Miranda Schreurs, Director of Environmental Policy Research at Freie Universität Berlin, at the joint GCRI and American Council on Germany (ACG) luncheon discussion on May 21, 2012.
The Fukushima nuclear explosions heightened the international focus on safe energy procurement. But the driving force behind Germany’s energy transition is and remains a strong concern for climate change, said Prof. Schreurs, who was appointed by Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Ethics Commission on a Safe Energy Supply. This commission advises the German government on energy issues in the post-Fukushima era. In addition to Europe’s 20-20-20 goals by 2020 – 20% reduction of CO2 emissions, 20% energy efficiency improvement, and 20% of renewable energy in total primary energy production – Germany has announced ambitious goals and plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 40%. Currently, Germany’s CO2 emissions are 26% below the 1990s levels. After Fukushima, Germany shut down eight nuclear power plants. The remaining operating plants will be phased out by 2022.
Although Germany is a leader in renewable technologies development, nuclear power still contributes to 17% of Germany’s energy. To supply Germany with 100% renewable energy is technically possible, said Prof. Schreurs. But as of now, this possibility remains a question of cost and affordability for the industry as well as for the private consumer. Small communities, like the village of Feldheim near Berlin, for example, already successfully supply their electricity needs with an energy mix derived from wind, solar, and biomass. The town of Bottrop in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia serves as an example of a community that is building a completely new infrastructure around renewable energy. Nevertheless, increased development of off-shore wind parks and efficient transport of wind energy from North to South, further development of the grid infrastructure, solar park development as well as solutions for electricity storage, such as hydrogen fuel storage and collaborations among communities, still need to be addressed.
Prof. Schreurs pointed out Germany’s pioneering role in Europe and how other European countries are following suit: Switzerland’s nuclear phase-out is scheduled for 2034, for example, and Italy has vetoed plans to restart nuclear power. An energy economy solution for all of Europe could be the establishment of a European power grid to counteract regional instabilities and to ensure sufficient capacities, including, for example, wind power from Norway, solar power from Southern Europe, or hydro power from the central regions.
Dr. Helena Kane Finn, Vice President and Director of Programs, at the ACG, moderated the discussion. This event was the first part of a GCRI-ACG series on renewable energy, which will be continued in the fall.