Historic Landmark in German Energy Policy

11 June 2011

ECO clearly missed a presentation by Germany in Thursday’s workshop on developed country mitigation. Germany could have taken the opportunity to present its package of wide reaching energy and infrastructure legislative proposals, presented this Monday, as a response to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

While these negotiations rarely deal with nuclear energy, delegates would surely have been intrigued to witness what could become a historical turn in energy policy taking place in a leading industrial country. One that, if planned and executed carefully, could become a development! model for many other countries struggling with their dependence on increasingly expensive, climate change causing fossil fuels or nuclear energy with its risks and dirty and dangerous legacy. Because, ECO notes, the government has confirmed that phasing out nuclear energy will not alter the country’s resolve to cut itsgreenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 and by 80-95% by 2050. Not replacing the nuclear threat with a new climate threat is ambitious, but possible, as numerous experts from all sides have confirmed. ECO hopes that dirty industry and its buddies in government aren’t going to screw it up.

The most prominent piece is the accelerated phase out of nuclear power plants, with the 8 oldest plants not going online anymore at all, and the remaining ones shutting down one by one more gradually until 2022. Earlier phase out, such as in 2017, would have been possible, but nonetheless the legislative proposals, which have now been presented to the German Parliament represent a significant shift.

The renewable energy act is confirming the principles of a long-term guaranteed feed in tariff and grid priority for renewable electricity. ECO has learned that this means the ambition to meet 35% of German power demand from renewable electricity by 2020 is therefore not a cap, but a minimum floor, from which to build beyond 2020. The dynamic development of renewable energies in Germany is a result of that policy.

The grid infrastructure laws are attempting the ambitious goal of increasing public participation and acceptance while reducing the length of the permitting procedures. Most proposals are sound but it remains to be seen how successfully they can be implemented.

The laws on energy efficiency could be much more ambitious and goals more binding. However, the conservative liberal coalition in Germany has set up a multi- billion support programme for efficiency measures, e.g. in the building sector.

All these proposals are slowly but surely exploring the practical possibility for a paradigm change in the systems of electricity generation, distribution and consumption.

Some industry lobbyists are, together with the four big utilities, warning that a “deindustrialization of Germany” is imminent. However, the overwhelming majority of studies show that a whole new industry – with substantial positive growth and labor market impacts – is emerging. The economic benefits of such a transformation will hopefully be understood by other sectors (e.g. transport) as a signal that the chances and rewards associated with such transition to a low carbon future are tremendous.

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