While Germany roars ahead with renewable electricity, too little is happening with heat and transportation. Now, a study finds that Germany is likely not only to miss its carbon reduction target by the end of this decade, but also the target for the share of renewables in all energy. Craig Morris says the Germans are clearly stumbling through their Energiewende – and that’s good news for other countries going down a similar path.
Did I recently say that Germany might be on target for renewable electricity, but it will not meet its 2050 target for renewable energy until 2097 at current rates of progress?
Now, a leading German energy analyst has put a finer point on my rough estimation. The short study conducted on behalf of German renewable energy association BEE is only available in German (60-page PDF). The author is Joachim Nitsch, who knows exactly how to make such scenarios; he was a chief contributor to previous Leitstudien (official governmental roadmaps).
The study focuses on three main scenarios:
- the government’s own Energy Concept,
- a path within the growth corridor for onshore wind power, and
- a more ambitious trend towards a 95 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
The main takeaway is that the growth corridor – 2.4 to 2.6 GW of annual new capacity net for onshore wind – will produce a much higher share of renewable electricity, but the target will not be met for total energy, cogeneration, or greenhouse gas emissions. Germany’s Energiewende is clearly still an electricity transition, not a true energy transition. Here, some tweaking still needs to be done.
Another interesting finding is that the government’s own growth corridor does not tally with its Energy Concept. The latter was more or less created in the ivory tower with few political constraints, whereas the former is the political implementation of that concept – including real-world bargaining.
Not surprisingly, Nitsch says that the German government’s “current Energiewende policy still lacks a coherent strategy to tackle all sectors by 2050.” Admirers of the Energiewende sometimes depict it as a master plan of German engineering in combination with that magical German ability to reach a consensus across party lines and throughout society. Interestingly, the Energiewende’s critics seem to agree that this combination exists, though they depict it as practically Soviet-style central planning based on a green ideology that permeates all of German society. In reality, the German Energiewende consensus has to be renegotiated continually. And while the targets for 2050 are set, German engineering and political masterminds don’t know how to get there any more than experts in other countries do. The Germans are stumbling through the Energiewende experiment, working to correct mistakes as they go along. Germany’s energy transition is an iterative process, and Nitsch’s study is intended as troubleshooting so that problems can be fixed.
In the transport sector, Nitsch calls for “a considerable increase in efficiency” in the short and midterm, including a modal shift and changes in mobility behavior – in other words, people should begin combining different modes of transport (trains, public transportation, cycling & walking, and rental cars/car-sharing) rather than just taking their own car. In the heat sector, he argues that the current restrictions for biomass (particularly the tiny target of 100 MW annually) will slow down renewable heat. In no scenario does Germany come even close to its target for the share of cogeneration.
The study is food for thought for international onlookers as well. Too many media reports conflate peak renewable power production with the share of renewable energy. Thus, we read that Germany is 50 percent solar or three quarters renewable – even though renewable energy currently only makes up 11 percent of total energy supply. And that figure is only growing slowly.
The good news for other countries is that tackling an energy transition does not require any technical expertise or social consensus that only Germany has. If the Germans can stumble towards a renewable energy future, others can as well.