What is the German “Energiewende”?

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“Energiewende” (German for “energy transition”) is the term used in Germany to describe the country’s efforts to transition away from an energy system dominated by fossil and nuclear fuels towards an efficient and sustainable energy system based predominantly or entirely on renewable energy sources. The “Energiewende” is an ambitious undertaking whose roots can be traced back to the first large protests in Germany against the use of nuclear power in the 1970s.

Key goals of the Energiewende are to reduce and eventually eliminate energy-related greenhouse gas emissions as well as to overcome the risks associated with the use of nuclear power plants. In addition, the German government aims to preserve international competitiveness and a high security of energy supply. The German Federal Climate Change Act sets the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2045, so the Energiewende needs to be largely completed by then.

The Energiewende is of great importance to Germany, as only a successful transformation of Germany’s energy system will allow the country to reach its national climate targets as well as its international greenhouse gas reduction obligations. The Energiewende is also important globally, as many people in other countries are closely following the German efforts to radically transform its energy system in a relatively short time without relying on nuclear power. If Germany is successful in the coming years and decades in speeding up its Energiewende while keeping its economy strong and maintaining social cohesion, then other countries are more likely to move forward in their own energy transitions, increasing the chances that the world will succeed in averting the worst consequences of climate change.

Historical Context

Some observers see the protests of citizens against the construction of new nuclear power plants in Germany during the 1970s as a starting point for the Energiewende. In particular, the persistent and eventually successful protests against the construction of a nuclear power plant in the southwestern German village of Whyl are often cited as a landmark development that indicated German citizens’ desire to play a more active role in shaping the country’s energy system.

During the anti-nuclear protests and legal disputes of the 1970s, anti-nuclear activists became convinced that there was a need for scientific expertise on nuclear power and more generally on environmental issues that was not funded by the government or by industry. Consequently, a group of researchers founded the Öko-Institut, an environmental research institute, in 1977. One of the institute’s first publications was a book entitled “Energiewende,” published in 1980. The book laid out how an immediate nuclear phase-out and the elimination of petroleum by 2030 could be implemented without jeopardizing economic growth and prosperity. In the decades since, more environmental institutes have been founded in Germany and a large number of energy scenario studies have been developed, describing possible pathways of energy system transformation.

In 1987 the German parliament convened a commission whose mandate was to study preventive measures to protect the earth’s atmosphere. This commission helped to inform German policymakers and the general public about the risks of climate change. In its final report, the commission recommended that wealthy industrial countries with high per capita CO2 emissions reduce their emissions by at least 30% by 2005 (relative to 1987). Among other things, the commission also recommended the implementation of measures to increase energy efficiency, an increase the use of wind turbines to produce electricity and further development of solar PV technology.

In 1990, MP Matthias Engelsberger from the Christian Union introduced the Electricity Feed-in Law (“Stromeinspeisungsgesetz”). The law passed and went into effect in January 1991. This law was the first to oblige electricity supply companies to purchase electricity from renewable energy plants from third parties and to pay a specified amount for it. For electricity from wind and solar power, for example, companies had to pay at least 90 percent of the average revenue per kilowatt hour from the sale of electricity to end consumers. The law ensured that small-scale renewable energy producers would no longer be dependent on the good will of energy supply companies when selling their electricity to the grid. As a result of the law, the production of renewable energies in Germany increased during the 1990s, particularly from wind power.

After the general election of 1998, the Social Democrats and the Green Party formed a new coalition government, taking power after 16 years of a government led by the conservative Christian Union. As both parties were skeptical of nuclear power, they intended to gradually phase out its use. In the year 2000, the government concluded an agreement with the four German nuclear power plant operators to shut down all German nuclear power plants after each plant had generated a certain amount of electricity. Under this agreement, it was anticipated that the last German nuclear power plants would be shut down in the early 2020s. This phase-out plan became law in 2002.

In the year 2000, the landmark Renewable Energy Sources Act was passed by German parliament. Interestingly, as in the case of the Electricity Feed-in Law, this law originated from parliamentarians, not the government. While the new law built upon the existing feed-in law, one major difference was that the remuneration received by different types of renewable energy plants was more varied. The idea was to offer opportunities for different types of renewable energy technologies to be installed, enabling initially expensive technologies to reduce their costs through deployment-induced learning. Electricity from new solar PV plants, for example, initially received 0.99 Deutsche Mark (around 0.50 Euro) per kWh when fed into the grid. This amount was more than three times the amount typically paid by German households in the year 2000 for electricity from their suppliers. As a result of rapid technological learning, the remuneration for new PV plants decreased until late 2021 by 85 to 90% to between 0.05 and 0.07 Euro per kWh (depending on the size of the plant).

The Renewable Energy Sources Act has been the key reason behind the strong growth of electricity generation from renewable energy sources in Germany since the year 2000 (see Figure 1). The fixed and cost-covering remuneration of electricity and the long duration of this remuneration (20 years) meant that renewable energy investments were unbureaucratic and low-risk, enabling small companies, citizen cooperatives and individual homeowners to make such investments. This led to a broad ownership of renewable energy plants in Germany society, which in turn boosted acceptance among the public for the strong growth in renewable energy installations.

Figure 1: Gross electricity generation from renewable sources in Germany, 1990-2020 Source: Based on data from AG Energiebilanzen (2022)

Another important development of the Energiewende came in 2010, when the German government – by then back in the hands of the conservative Christian Union and its coalition partner, the market liberal Free Democrats – released its “Energy Concept.” This document introduced a number of specific climate and energy targets for the medium term (2020) and longer term (2030, 2040 and 2050). The key goal of the Energy Concept was to reduce GHG emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050 relative to 1990. To achieve this goal, additional targets were set for improving energy efficiency and increasing the shares of renewable energy sources in gross electricity demand and gross final energy demand. The Energy Concept also called for stronger efforts to develop the technology to capture and store CO2 from coal power plants, an effort that has since proved to be futile due to strong opposition from society and to high costs.

Another key element of the Energy Concept was the announcement to prolong the use of nuclear power by significantly increasing the amount of electricity that existing nuclear power plants were still allowed to produce. This additional amount of electricity was expected to postpone the phase-out of nuclear power plants by at least 12 years to well into the 2030s. The phase-out postponement was implemented by the government in fall 2010 even though polls conducted at the time showed that a clear majority of Germans were against this decision to prolong the phase-out of nuclear power.

However, things changed quickly again after the nuclear accident in the reactors in Fukushima, Japan, in March of 2011. After this accident, pressure from German society increased significantly to phase out of nuclear power much faster than the government foresaw in its 2010 decision. Consequently, in mid-2011, the government decided to gradually phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022, largely in line with the initial phase-out plan of 2000/2002.

The year 2018 saw the birth of the “Fridays for Future” movement of predominantly young people, inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. The movement organized several large protests in 2018 and 2019, calling for much more ambitious climate policies in Germany. These protests helped to move the topic of climate change back to the top of the agenda in Germany and many other countries. They may thus have contributed to the fact that the new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, put a strong emphasis on climate protection and called for Europe to become carbon neutral by 2050. The German government supported this target, which also meant that Germany’s 2050 target needed to be tightened. Germany was now also aiming for climate neutrality by 2050 instead of the previous 80 to 95% greenhouse gas emission-reduction target (relative to 1990).

In late 2019, the Federal Climate Change Act was passed by the German parliament. This law legally defined the 2050 climate neutrality target and also stipulated specific annual greenhouse gas emission reduction targets until 2030 for individual sectors such as buildings, industry and transport. The law also established an independent expert council on climate issues. One of the tasks of this council is to evaluate the short-term emission reduction measures that the government now needs to propose for individual sectors in cases when a sector’s emissions in the previous year were higher than foreseen in the Act.

In 2021, the German climate target was tightened again, following a ruling by Germany’s supreme constitutional court (“Bundesverfassungsgericht”). The court ruled in March of that year that the Federal Climate Change Act violated the freedoms of young Germans by offloading major emission reduction burdens onto the post-2030 period. As a consequence of the ruling, the German government decided to tighten its 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target and move forward its climate neutrality target by 5 years to 2045.

Basic Facts and Figures

Table 1 shows key quantitative energy and climate targets that the German government has set since 2010. It also shows, based on preliminary data, which of the 2020 targets were met.

Table 1: Current Energy and Climate Targets of the German Government

(As of October 2021, much of the actual data for 2019 and 2020 is preliminary)

** Developments are in line with the government’s nuclear phase-out targets as this phase-out is regulated in the Atomic Energy Act.* Sum of battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles.

Sources: The various sources for the actual data as well as the targets will be provided by the author upon request.

Total greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 41 % by 2020 relative to 1990, meaning the government’s target of a 40 % reduction was met. However, studies found that without the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the target would have been missed. This is also suggested by the much lower reduction (35%) that had been reached by 2019.

The table also shows that the 2020 sectoral greenhouse gas emission reduction targets were met by most of the relevant sectors of the energy system with the exception of the residential and tertiary sector. As a result of this sector’s insufficient emission reductions, the German government in 2021 increased its funding for the support of energy-efficiency retro-fitting of existing buildings. In the transport sector, however, the 2020 emission reduction target would have been missed by far were not for the sudden decrease in transport activity due to COVID-19. In 2019, the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions were virtually identical to its 1990 emissions, a stark difference to the emission reductions achieved in all other sectors of the energy system. In the transport sector, progress achieved since 1990 through energy efficiency improvements (for example in the design of engines) and the use of renewables (mostly biofuels) were offset by a steady increase in transport activity and a trend to larger and heavier cars.

Most of the unrealized targets in Table 1 are found in the category “Energy efficiency / energy savings”, showing that progress in energy efficiency continues to lag well behind what studies say could be realized. As energy demand for space heating currently makes up more than one fourth of total overall energy demand, faster improvements in the energy efficiency of the existing building stock through refurbishments are seen as pivotal for reducing energy demand and reaching emission-reduction targets. While up-to-date information about the annual rate of efficiency-improving retro-fitting of existing buildings is not available, the rate remained at around 1.0 % between 2010 and 2016, even though the government had set a target of 2.0% in its Energy Concept of 2010.

In contrast, targets set in 2010 for increasing the share of renewable energy sources in gross electricity demand and gross final energy demand were fulfilled in 2020. The share of renewables in gross electricity demand in 2020 was 45% (44% in gross electricity generation), well above the target of 35%. While the decrease in electricity demand during the COVID-19 pandemic and an exceptionally strong wind year boosted this share in 2020, its strong growth is also an indication that the expanded use of renewable energy sources in the German electricity system has been the biggest success of the German Energiewende so far. As Figure 2 shows, the strong and continuous increase in electricity generation from renewable energy sources over the past 30 years has enabled a decrease in fossil fuel power generation even as the use of nuclear power is gradually being phased out.

Figure 2: Gross Electricity Generation by Sources in Germany, 1990-2020 Source: Based on data from AG Energiebilanzen (2022)

At the same time, the strong growth in new installations led to higher electricity costs for consumers, as the costs for the remuneration of renewable power plant owners (to the extent not covered by the sale of this electricity on the wholesale market) is paid for by a surcharge on the electricity price. The high investments in new wind power plants and especially in new solar PV and biomass plants led to a high increase in this surcharge in the late 2000s and early 2010s. By 2014, the surcharge made up more than 20 % of the average per-kWh cost of electricity for households, leading to calls for a slower expansion of renewables and changes to the support mechanism of the Renewable Energy Sources Act.

As a response to these calls, in the years that followed, the German government introduced mechanisms to limit the further expansion of renewables. For example, in 2017 it amended the Renewable Energy Sources Act to introduce an obligation for virtually all new wind power plants as well as new big solar PV plants to participate in auctions. Bids with the lowest required remuneration won and received support. The obligation to take part in these auctions enabled the government to limit the number of new plants that were built. Compared to the fixed remuneration rates for new renewable power plants in the previous versions of the Act, the new auctions added complexity and decreased investment security for interested investors. Especially for smaller investors (including citizen cooperatives) this new format made it harder and riskier to invest in new plants. The switch to auctions is seen by some as one reason why the number of new wind power plants constructed in Germany decreased significantly after 2018 (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Newly Installed Capacity of Onshore Wind Power Plants in Germany, 2000-2020 Source: Based on data from Bundesverband WindEnergie (2021)

As Figure 4 shows, the construction of wind power plants and solar PV plants in recent years in Germany has been far lower than what several recent scenario studies suggest will be needed in the coming years for Germany to have a chance to reach its 2030 climate target.

Figure 4: Newly Installed Capacity of Wind and PV Plants in Germany from 2018 to 2020 and Average Annually Installed Capacities in the 2020s in 3 Recent Climate Protection Scenarios / Sources: Based on data from Fraunhofer ISE (2021)Prognos et al. (2021)dena (2021)BDI (2021)

While Germany slightly exceeded its 2020 target for the share of renewables in gross final energy consumption, this share is considerably smaller than the share of renewables specifically in electricity demand. The share of renewables in overall energy demand was largely driven by the increase in the use of renewables in the electricity system, while there has been little success in recent years in increasing the shares of renewables in the transport sector and in heat supply.

As electric cars have only recently started to outgrow their niche status and become more mainstream, the vast majority of transport has so far remained dependent on the use of liquid fuels. Consequently, biofuels were long seen as the only option for increasing the share of renewables in the transport sector. However, due to concerns about the sustainability of biofuels (especially from cultivated biomass), including their life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and their effects on food prices, political efforts to increase the use of biofuels were soon halted. Consequently, while the share of renewables in the transport sector rose quickly from less than 1% in the year 2000 to 7% in 2007, the share fell to between 5 and 6% in the following years, only to climb to 7% again in 2020. The recent increase in the share is due to an increase in the use of biofuels, which in turn is mainly the result of a more ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction obligation for fuel suppliers that came into effect in the year 2020. However, in the future, the far-reaching growth in the share of renewables envisioned for the transport sector is expected to be realized mainly through the use of increasingly renewables-based electricity and electricity-derived fuels.

The development of renewable energy sources in heating during the past few decades has been similar to that in the transport sector. Until today, biomass remains by far the most prevalent source of renewable energy in heating. However, the limited availability of sustainably sourced biomass means that the strong growth in biomass use for heating seen in Germany between the late 1990s and the early 2010s has since come to an end. While the share of renewables in heating increased from 2% in 1995 to 14% in 2013, the use of biomass for heating actually decreased moderately in the following years. As a consequence, despite a reduction in overall heating demand due to efficiency improvements in building envelopes and in industrial processes, the share of renewables was only marginally higher in 2020 (15%). While the use of environmental heat (through heat pumps) and solar thermal energy grew in the past decade, the combined share of these sources in the total amount of heat provided by renewable energy sources is still low, about 15 % in 2020. In the future, the share of renewables in heating will need to increase much faster in order to contribute adequately to Germany’s climate targets. This can be achieved mainly by faster gains in energy savings (e.g. by increasing the rate of retro-fitting of existing buildings), a significant increase in the use of heat pumps, more solar thermal plants and the use of fuels derived from green electricity (such as hydrogen).

Electricity generation from nuclear power has decreased steadily in recent years, as more and more nuclear reactors were shut down in line with the nuclear phase-out agreed upon in the year 2011. At the beginning of 2022, three nuclear reactors were still in operation in Germany. These three reactors are due to be shut down by the end of the year 2022.

Another specific target set by the government as part of its Energy Concept of 2010 was to have one million electric vehicles in operation by the year 2020. By January 1, 2021, around 640,000 electric vehicles were in operation in Germany, meaning the target was missed. However, especially since 2020, sales of new electric cars rose dramatically and by the end of July 2021, over 1 million electric vehicles were reported to be in operation in Germany. It should be noted that the German government also includes hybrid electric vehicles in this number and these vehicles typically use fossil fuels for much of the time they are operated. (Fully electric vehicles made up only 54% of the one million electric vehicles in operation at the end of July 2021.) The government expects that over time, electric vehicles will displace conventional vehicles. However, between 2010 and 2020 the number of vehicles in stock in Germany rose by six million, so the number of vehicles using (solely) fossil fuels still increased in this period.

Finally, another quantitative target for the energy system was set by the government in the year 2020 as part of its National Hydrogen Strategy. Germany intends to produce domestically some of the green hydrogen that it is expected to require in the future. To this end, Germany aims to install a capacity of electrolyzers of “up to 5 gigawatts” by 2030. By 2040 “at least 10 gigawatts” are to be installed in Germany. Available scenario studies, however, typically envision a much higher installed capacity of electrolyzers in Germany in the future.

Main Actors of the Energiewende

As the Energiewende is a wide-ranging and long-term undertaking, many different actors are involved in it. Among the key actors are the following:

  • European Union
  • German parliament and government
  • State governments
  • Municipalities
  • Environmental NGOs
  • Companies and industry associations

The European Union (EU) – particularly the three main institutions involved in EU legislation (the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and European Commission) – has in recent decades played an increasingly important role in shaping energy policy in the EU’s member states. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, which went into effect in December 2009, the EU has been specifically authorized to pursue energy policies aiming for a functioning energy market, a secure supply of energy, an increase in energy efficiency and energy savings, the development of new and renewable forms of energy and a better interconnection of energy networks. Key European Union energy and climate policies that have supported Germany’s Energiewende include the EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS), which caps emissions of the industry and energy sector, and is continuously tightening CO₂ emission performance standards for cars and vans. While in the past the German government has tried to prevent a strong tightening of these performance standards, worrying about the speed at which German car manufacturers could transform, the tighter standards are considered to be an important reason for the recent strong increase in electric vehicle sales.

Despite the growing relevance of the EU in shaping energy policy, the German government and parliament retain an important role in shaping Germany’s energy system. In particular, they decide on the country’s preferred energy mix. As discussed above, Germany has set itself targets for increasing the share of renewable energy sources and for phasing out the use of nuclear power. The German government and parliament also decide on specific measures for achieving these targets. Such measures include the Renewable Energy Sources Act, regulation of minimum efficiency standards for newly built houses, and government bonuses for buying an electric car. The German government of course has a strong interest in making the Energiewende a success, but at the same time there are also interests at play that do not always fully align with the goals of the Energiewende. One example is the goal of retaining jobs in existing industries. Conflicting interests have in the past led to disagreements within the government on the stringency of energy and climate policy measures, particularly between the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Federal Ministry for the Environment.

The state governments of the 16 federal states of Germany also come into play in energy policy. While these government have limited jurisdiction in the field of energy and climate policy, some elements of the Energiewende can still be shaped by them. For one thing, federal energy and climate policy measures in some cases need the support of the “Second Chamber” (“Bundesrat”), which is made up of representatives of the 16 federal states. In these cases, the federal states can attempt to include their interests in new national policies. In terms of their own energy and climate legislation, areas that the federal states can shape include regulation of the municipal energy industry, district heating laws and building codes. For example, several states have recently decided to introduce “solar obligations,” meaning that in the future certain types of new buildings, or in some cases renovated existing buildings, will need to install solar PV or solar thermal plants. The federal states can also shape their public procurement laws to take into account climate protection priorities.

A key area for municipalities in energy and climate policy is the transport sector. For example, municipalities can improve their public transport system and they can also determine the costs and convenience of using cars in city centers by deciding on parking fees and other measures. German municipalities also often own public utilities (“Stadtwerke”) and through these they can influence decisions such as what type of new power or heating plants to build.

Among the important actors of the Energiewende are also the country’s environmental NGOs. Two big German environmental NGOs are the BUND and the NABU, which both have a significant number of active members organized in local groups throughout the country. Other environmental NGOs include Greenpeace and WWF and the smaller Eurosolar organization. The focus of these environmental NGOs differs somewhat from one NGO to another, with the NABU for example emphasizing strongly the need for taking into account issues of nature conservation when expanding the use of renewables and Eurosolar focusing on the expansion of small-scale renewables. Despite the differences in detail, all these environmental NGOs lobby for more ambitious climate policy measures. They try to get their voices heard inter alia by commissioning studies, organizing events and calling for demonstrations.

Since early 2019, the group “Fridays for Future” has been calling for much more ambitious climate policies, aiming for Germany to become climate neutral by 2035. This movement of young protesters whose demonstrations often draw large numbers, gained significant relevance in the public discussion on climate change in Germany.

Companies and industry associations are also relevant actors in the German Energiewende. Over the past ten years or so many companies and industry associations have become more open to the need for an ambitious energy transition, taking part in discussions on how such an energy transition could be realized in the industry sector. Many large German companies such as steel producer thyssenkrupp and car manufacturer Volkswagen have in recent years announced plans to become climate neutral by 2050 or earlier. In September 2021, the influential Federation of German Industries (BDI), which represents 40 sector associations, released a scenario study showing how Germany can become climate neutral by 2045. Like individual companies and sector associations, the BDI calls for immediate regulatory changes and financial support measures by the German government to allow companies to gradually transform their production processes towards climate neutrality by 2045. The big German energy companies such as RWE and E.ON have also somewhat eased their opposition to the Energiewende, evidenced in recent years by a trend to reduce their dependence on nuclear and coal power plants by restructuring and investing much more heavily in renewable energy power plants.

Latest Developments

According to a survey conducted in March and April 2021, eight out of ten Germans believe that climate change is a very serious problem, while almost seven out of ten believe that the German government is not doing enough to tackle climate change. And indeed, the current pace of energy system transformation is clearly insufficient to reach the government’s 2030 emission reduction target and to achieve climate neutrality by 2045. A recent study concluded that without additional measures, Germany is likely to reduce its emissions by only about 49 % by 2030, well behind the 65 % emission reduction goal. In recent years, progress in many areas of the Energiewende has been insufficient. These areas include the expansion of wind and solar PV plants, the transformation of the transport sector towards a higher use of more energy-efficient and less CO2-intensive types of transport modes, and the rate of retro-fitting existing buildings for increased energy efficiency.

At the same time, the past two years have also seen some promising progress in certain areas of the Energiewende:

  • The CO2 price in the European Emission Trading System has increased considerably, from below 30 €/ton during 2019 (and even below 10 €/ton between 2012 and early 2018) to some 80 to 90 €/ton in February 2022. This relatively high CO2 price has led to reductions in the use of coal power in the electricity and industry sectors and makes renewable energy sources more competitive.
  • Sales of electric cars have significantly increased in Germany, with battery electric cars making up 17% of new car registrations in September 2021, up from only 2% in September 2019.
  • Judging from a significantly increased demand for financial support from government programs, the annual rate of energy efficiency improving refurbishments of the building stock appears to have increased in 2020.
  • In 2021, CO2 pricing in the transport and the residential and tertiary sector came into effect in Germany. The initially modest CO2 prices are set to increase over the coming years, making more efficient and renewable energy-based vehicles and heating technologies more competitive.
  • The Climate Protection Act that entered into effect in late 2019 provides for regular reviews of progress in the relevant greenhouse-gas-emitting sectors and requires government ministries to suggest additional emission reduction measures effective in the short term if emissions of a certain sector are found to be too high.

The new German government that came into office in late 2021 will need to build upon these areas of progress to speed up the Energiewende. Among other things, it will need to find a way to accelerate energy efficiency improvements and roughly triple the expansion of wind and solar PV plants relative to the past few years. Progress towards more energy-efficient lifestyles would certainly make it easier, cheaper and less resource-intensive to achieve the targets of the Energiewende, but policy measures to support lifestyle changes do not seem to be on the political agenda.

What Happens Next?

While the outgoing government decided to tighten Germany’s 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target in the summer of 2021, and move the climate neutrality target forward by five years, it fell short of passing legislation to enable these targets to be reached. It is therefore up to the new government to decide on specific measures that can speed up the Energiewende. This government is led by the Social Democrats, with the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats as partners. It is the first government in Germany not headed by the conservative Christian Union and Chancellor Angela Merkel in 16 years.

The three parties’ 12-page paper, written in mid-September at the end of exploratory talks for forming a new government, highlights some areas of the Energiewende where the new government wants to achieve faster progress. These include:

  • Accelerating the expansion of renewables by removing all relevant hurdles and obstacles and accelerating planning and approval procedures.
  • Making the use of solar PV on roofs of new commercial buildings and – as a general rule – also on the roofs of new private buildings mandatory.
  • Designating two percent of the country’s area for onshore wind power.
  • Significantly increasing offshore wind energy capacity.
  • Accelerating the phase-out of coal-based coal-fired power generation, with the phase out completed “ideally” by 2030.
  • Massively accelerating the expansion of the charging station infrastructure for electric vehicles.

However, concrete agreements between the three parties in energy and climate issues may not come easily, as particularly the two smaller parties, the Green Party and the Free Democrats, have very different views on the government’s role in the transformation process. While the Green Party supports a broad mix of climate policy measures in the various sectors of the energy system, the Free Democrats prefer to rely to a large extent on a CO2 price signal for steering the transformation process.

Several recent scenario studies for Germany indicate that it is technically and economically feasible to complete the Energiewende and reach climate neutrality by 2045 (see Figure 5 for an overview of a possible pathway). However, significant modifications to the current course are needed and will need to be put in place in a manner that maintains public receptivity to the transformation. To this end, the broad participation of various societal stakeholders should be aimed for in the transformation process and negative financial effects on low-income groups need to be avoided. Decisions over the next four years by the incoming German government will be decisive in bringing the country on course to achieve its Energiewende targets.

Figure 5: Overview of a Recent German Scenario Describing a Pathway Towards Climate Neutrality by 2045

Source: Prognos et al. (2021)

Further Reading

Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (2021): The Energy of the Future 8th Monitoring Report on the Energy Transition – Reporting Years 2018 and 2019. https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Publikationen/Energie/the-energy-of-the-future-8th-monitoring-report.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=6.

Prognos, Öko-Institut, Wuppertal Institute (2021): Towards a Climate-Neutral Germany by 2045 – How Germany can reach its climate targets before 2050. https://static.agora-energiewende.de/fileadmin/Projekte/2021/2021_04_KNDE45/A-EW_213_KNDE2045_Summary_EN_WEB.pdf.

DIW Berlin, Wuppertal Institute, Ecologic Institute (2019): Phasing Out Coal in the German Energy Sector – Interdependencies, Challenges and Potential Solutions, https://www.ecologic.eu/sites/default/files/publication/2019/3537-kohlereader_englisch-final.pdf

von Hirschhausen, C. et al. (Ed.) (2018): Energiewende “Made in Germany” – Low Carbon Electricity Sector Reform in the European Context.

Morris, C. and Jungjohann, A. (2016): Energy Democracy – Germany’s Energiewende to Renewables.


This Backgrounder is published in the framework of the European-Israeli Forum for Environment and Sustainability, a collaboration between the Israel Public Policy Institute (IPPI) and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Tel Aviv.

The opinions expressed in this text are solely that of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Israel Public Policy Institute (IPPI) and/or the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Tel Aviv.

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