New Year’s resolutions for the energy transition

Germany has a new governing coalition this year, and the new Energy and Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel says the entire Energiewende needs to be relaunched. Craig Morris has no problem with that opinion – as long as we remain focused on the right outcome.

Happy new year 2014 (Photo by derhypnosefrosch, CC BY-NC 2.0)

2014 will most likely bring a lot of policy changes to the German Energiewende. (Photo by derhypnosefrosch, CC BY-NC 2.0)

As I recently argued, German politicians currently seem excessively focused on protecting consumers from rising power prices. At the end of December, Gabriel announced that the entire energy transition needs to be “reloaded,” and he seems exclusively focused on rising power prices. He is quoted in the press as saying, “The energy transition must not hamper German industry in the long run.”

None of this makes much sense on a factual level, unfortunately. Retail power prices are rising, but the picture for industry differs depending on whether we are talking about firms that are exempt or not from the renewables surcharge. And Germany’s neighbors are worried about unfairly low prices in Germany, with Dutch aluminum firm Aldel filing for bankruptcy at the end of December because no direct power connection to the German grid could be provided in time.

Obviously, German industry power prices are above average within the EU (and near the top for residential), so we should keep an eye on rising prices. But prices should not be our main concern; if they remain stable anyway (in line with inflation), as I forecast, it is merely opportune for politicians to take credit for the inevitable. Reaching our goals for 2050 should be the focus.

There are three main goals: first, the share of renewables in electricity is to increase to “at least” 80 percent; second, the share of renewables in total energy supply is to increase to “at least” 60 percent; finally, greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by “at least” 80 percent – all of this by 2050.

Does the new governing coalition still take these goals seriously? Judging from the new “corridors,” no. The term “at least” in current German law is apparently to be replaced by a ceiling, at least for the (new) interim targets of 2025 (40-45 percent renewable electricity) and 2035 (55-60 percent).

Up to now, Chancellor Merkel has not exactly been committed to lowering carbon emissions either, a target that would take us outside of the power sector, meaning that the energy transition would – finally – have to focus on oil consumption for heat and motor fuels. Should Germany not follow Denmark’s example and outright ban new oil boilers? And how far can the German government go in forcing its powerful car manufacturers to switch from luxury to thrifty cars? Likewise, a commitment by the German government on a more significant carbon price would be helpful.

And what about capacity markets, which Germany is apparently to have in a couple of years? Will they be focused on promoting the kinds of technologies that will be needed for, say, 55-60 percent renewable power just two decades from now? Should we not kill two birds and include a carbon price in eligibility for capacity payments? Would capacity markets not be a good place to promote power storage as well?

We have written about most of these issues before, so just follow the links provided for more information. No doubt, the political reality will fall short of what could be done, and we will comment on events here for you from our own critical perspective throughout the year.

For now, we wish you all the best for your own transition into 2014!

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of German Energy Transition. He directs Petite Planète and writes every workday for Renewables International.


Craig Morris (@PPchef) is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende.

1 Comment

  1. Kent Otho Doering says

    As a U.S. ex-pat decades long resident of Germany, a member of the S.P.D., and with over 30 years in the “sustainability sector” I totally disagree with Craig´s assessment of the “Energiewende” which also includes the simultaneous exit from nuclear power at while exiting fossil fuel power
    First, heat recapture technologies are dropping the fossil fuel costs of solar components, and new breakthroughs in efficiency – boost the panel capacities from a current 20 % to maximum 50%… and lowered panel costs. “Solar in Germany will have costs of less than 50 euro cents per producing watt installed.

    Some cities in Germany already have over 50% energy (heat and power) covered by renewables and “waste to power systems”- (Munich will be 100% “sustainable” by 2025, only two years after Bavaria´s last nuclear reactors are to be shut down.

    As for Germany´s automotive industry- it is leading in energy efficiency with e-cars and things like plug diesel hybrids. (The Porsche Panamera gets 90 m.p.g. and the VW XL 1 gets 250 m.p.g. With “dual fuel” aqueous fuel systems, the Panamera will get 700 m.p.g. and the VW XL 1 will be getting 2500 m.p.g..

    The VW-ichtblick micro-combined heat power unit is very efficient. It uses 6 cubic meters of natural gas an hour to generate 35 kw of heat, and 20 kw of power. ((backup baseline for solar and wind.) 100.000 such units make up a Smart Grid coordinated “Swarm” virtual power plant. the equivalent of 2 reactors or 10 200 megawatt coal burning power plants while supplying heat at the same time.
    The Munich Aqueous Fuels initiative now has ways of making those run off nothing more than “rooftop runoff rainwater”, collected in tanks.
    Replacing all 6.5 million heating oil units by 2040 will put – over 100 Gigawatts of backup baseline power on the grid. The German government subsidizes their installation, and they amortize inside of three years, meaning more money for other installations like wind, solar, anchored on stream, farm manure methane recapture systems, etc.
    And nuclear plants are not a total write off. Many will be converted to run “all aqueous” with a combination of “advanced hho systems” at 900 cubic liters of hho an hour- powered by an Alphy Stirling cycle on the heat line, and magnetic resonance ionized steam ignition, driving gas turbines, with exhaust heat driving the rankine cycle steam, and the Alphy Stirling motors in tri-combined cycle mode.

    The German renewable energy laws also have a lot of paragraphs covering the rapid build out of energy efficiency measures such as sealed dual pane re-windowing, facade and rooftop insulation systems, district heat systems, solar heat systems, building energy management systems, power management systems, which in combination with A+++ rated motors, cuts power consumption by 60% (efficiency is the low hanging fruit- many American comenters overlook.)
    Efficiency- there are revisions in technology and the laws. Coupled co-generation combined heat power is mandated on all new buildings, subsidized in replacing older heating oil systems. Now the next step in CHP is in industrial and food processing CHP- with adjuvent “aqueous fuel systems”. (literally smelting iron ore to pig iron – with “hho and MRISI – magnetic resonance ionized steam ignition systems.) and feed power into the grid at the same time.
    I have a different perspective from Munich, and am absolutely confident that Germany will be off both fossil and nuclear by2040 at the latest.
    Cars, trucks and busses will be either all electric, or all aqueous. Ditto for German locomotives on non-electrified lines. Building out urban transit and h.s.r. systems will continue to take more traffic off the road and put it on the rails.
    Sustainability outstripped the automotive sector as the biggest sector in the German economy in 2012. When you consider all the efficiency, waste-to-power, aqueos fuel system, solar, wind, and the new form of hydro-electric- floating anchored on stream going up on German rivers… you won´t have to “worry” about the “energy transition” working. Sigmar Gabriel is in touch with developments. By the way, I recommend the late Hermann Scheer´s “100 % renewable now” which is still the Gabriel blueprint.
    I am not nearly as concerned about the success of the energiewende simultaneously exiting both nuclear and fossil fuels. As I said, the Munich region will be off both by the end of 2025. It is do-able, and they are doing it.

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