49 percent of Germans doubt success of Energiewende

Two surveys published in January show where the public and the business world perceives shortcomings in Germany’s energy transition. Support remains high, however. Craig Morris investigates.

Opinion Poll on Energiewende

Two thirds of Germans want the energy transition to go faster. (Photo by berwis / pixelio.de)

Consultants at Oliver Wyman just published the results of their survey (press release in German), which found that more than 75 percent of private households, energy providers, and industrial firms continue to support the Energiewende. Some of the figures are extremely high:

  • 95 percent of those surveyed believe the transition has a positive impact on the job market;
  • 94 percent agree that it makes Germany more competitive;
  • 94 percent say it reduces energy imports;
  • 93 percent think it helps protect the climate;
  • and 91 percent say it makes consumers less dependent on power providers.

There is less consensus in other respects. Industrial firms invest in renewables to improve their corporate image (77 percent) and reduce costs (only 62 percent); they mainly build cogeneration units. And only 66 percent of households say that they would only be willing to invest in renewables (mainly photovoltaics and geothermal heat) if the return on investment is right. Unfortunately, many of their expectations for returns are unrealistic – 32 percent want payback within three years, with another 30 percent expecting it within five years. Under feed-in tariffs, the target return was only around six percent, which is a return closer to a dozen years.

While 49 percent of the public doubts that the Energiewende targets will be reached, the study does not say which targets are meant; the 2020 target for carbon emissions is indeed unlikely to be met, but the country also has annual targets for new PV and wind capacity. And the targets for 2050 are anyone’s guess.

The energy sector was asked whether they believe the amendments to the Renewable Energy Act made in 2014 were productive (the public was apparently not asked). A whopping 83 percent of these providers said the changes were either ineffective or negative. An equal number claimed to be “well prepared for upcoming challenges.” The providers mainly focus on building wind farms, although the survey does not say why.

A second survey published this year is Stiebel Eltron’s Energy Trend Monitor (press release in German), which is published annually. The company is a provider of heating equipment in households, including heat pumps and solar collectors. The survey seems to be tailored to the company’s portfolio. For instance, it found that 91 percent of the sample population (a representative 2,000 people) believe that storage for wind and solar power is an obstacle; the company sells a solar power storage facility for households – interestingly, one that uses excess green electricity to generate heat, rather than storing the power in a battery. Another question is therefore not surprising: 84 percent of those surveyed want excess wind and solar power to be used as a heat source.

The Energy Trend Monitor survey found that 88 percent of the population supports the Energiewende’s targets. Two thirds even want the transition to go faster. When it comes to specifics, there is greater disagreement: 67 percent want to make as much power and heat within their own homes, while 61 percent believe that grid upgrades are moving too slowly. Another market segment that was about to boom before the EEG amendments from 2014 is sales of green electricity to tenants from rooftops on apartment complexes. 86 percent of those surveyed would like to see this option more often.

Overall, these two surveys show that reaching a large majority of the public clearly involves providing the right financial incentives; mere appeals to everyone’s environmental conscience are not enough. To quote an analyst from Oliver Wyman, “the Energiewende remains popular in Germany, but it will continue to greatly rely on policy support.”

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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