German government debates energy policy details

Today, the German coalition is meeting with governors of the 16 German states to discuss details of the highly anticipated amendment to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG). Craig Morris says the public – including the sectors affected – have practically no time to respond. What he really wants – but is unlikely to get – is an estimation of what is needed annually.

A coal power plant in Karlsruhe. (Photo by Andreas Zachmann, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A coal power plant in Karlsruhe. (Photo by Andreas Zachmann, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s not an April Fool’s joke – yesterday, March 31, the German government published the draft of amendments to the EEG being discussed today along with the “reasoning” (Begründung). The first document has 125 pages; the second, 177. Comments can be made until 5 PM tomorrow. People have two days to read 302 pages of legalese and submit responses.

A few things have already been leaked, most recently the news this week that industry will not have to pay the renewables surcharge after all for power produced and generated in-house. The plans to expand the surcharge to both renewable and conventional power consumed directly have been known for some time, but originally firms generating electricity and heat from natural gas, for instance, would have had to pay part of the surcharge.

In an ominous sign, the consumption of electricity at power plants was exempt from the outset. Now, that exemption has been spread to existing power generators used by firms. An estimated 25 percent of the electricity consumed by industry is generated in-house; for instance, BASF has its own gas turbine; railway operator Deutsche Bahn, its own coal plant. Future generators built for direct consumption may only have to pay 20 percent of the surcharge.

The double standard is breathtaking. People who took advantage of the “own consumption” bonus for PV implemented in 2009 to invest in battery storage will now be penalized, while the consumption of dirty energy by big business is kept cheap. Here, it seems that the goals of the Energiewende are being sacrificed at the altar of corporate profits.

What Germany really needs is an official governmental plan that is realistic. The closest thing we have to a roadmap is the Leitstudie (PDF in German), which has not been updated since 2012. But it has historically been wildly off the mark. The 2008 version expected 7.7 GW of PV by 2010, but that year alone 7.5 GW was installed.

[UPDATE: Some of the data below had been taken from the wrong chart in the roadmap and has been corrected. The conclusions remain unaffected.]

The 2012 version has 38.5 GW of PV by 2015 (we now have nearly 35 GW) and only 67.2 GW by 2050, less than twice as much as today. And since we had 4.5 percent of PV in our power supply last year, we can justifiably conclude that Germany does not aim to get more than 10 percent of its electricity from PV by mid-century.


Wind power is expected to grow to 51 GW onshore and 32 offshore by 2050. Yet, the government is now clamping down on offshore wind for being too expensive, so the estimated 33 GW offshore by 2020 may be revised down to around 6.5 GW.

We now have some 34 GW of wind installed, roughly two thirds of what the Leitstudie has for onshore wind in its scenario for 2050. Germany had around eight percent wind power last year, so that could mean roughly 12 percent wind power. Combined with PV, we are at 22 percent renewable electricity. Yet, the goal is 80 percent.

The roughly equivalent amount of offshore power would not make up the difference. Current wind farms in the Baltic and the North Sea have capacity factors more than twice as great as onshore wind farms, meaning that they produce twice as much electricity per GW installed. The problem is that the Leitstudie numbers do not reflect reality. We are building far more solar and far less offshore wind than in the scenario. And far less onshore wind.

Based on the 25-year performance guarantees now offered for solar panels, 67 GW in 2050 is equivalent to roughly 2.7 GW per year. Yet, the annual “growth corridor” is 2.5-3.5 per year at present. Wind turbines generally run for 20 years, so 52 GW onshore is equivalent to 2.6 GW per year. The government wants to impose a new corridor of 2.5 GW for onshore wind. Over the past decade, only 2 GW has been installed annually.

Of course, the government does not need to know today how much needs to be built in 2030, much less 2050. But it would be good to have an idea of where we are going by 2020 and work to bring market growth in line with these requirements accordingly. I fear, however, that the politicians somehow feel rushed to implement changes that will protect large industry and are not spending enough time thinking about what needs to be done today for the Energiewende over the long term.


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.

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