As the UN climate panel meets in Berlin this week to finalise its report on options for combating climate change, here’s how Germany is rising to the challenge.
Rapidly reduce your reliance on coal? AND phase out nuclear power at the same time? Can’t be done? Yes, it can. Germany is on its way to revolutionising its energy system. The ambitious transition, known as the “Energiewende”, is turning the country into a pioneer for a greener, fairer way to produce energy.
The recipe? A massive increase in renewable energy. The growth of clean energy in Germany has already more than made up for the nuclear capacity that was closed down following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Renewable energy capacity equivalent to more than eight large nuclear reactors has been added in just three years. It’s leading to a substantial cut in power generation from dirty and deadly fossil fuels.
Last year, more than 32 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity was installed in Germany adding to the more than 35 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) power already in place. There are now more than one million solar PV systems on rooftops of private homes, farms and small companies.
In 2013, the amount of renewable electricity generated (146.2 TWh, terawatt-hours) exceeded that from any other single source contributing to Germany’s energy mix!
The “Energiewende” is the Energy [R]evolution in action. And the programme enjoys strong and widespread social and political support in Germany.
It has already made a huge contribution to the global fight against climate change by commercialising wind and solar power – two key renewable energy technologies that are now being deployed globally from China to the US.
But the job isn’t done yet. The European Emissions Trading System (ETS) is one area where we’re still facing a problem: every kilowatt-hour of renewable energy frees up emissions allowances in the system. But rather than these allowances being discarded, they are being sold and used elsewhere. As a result, the market price of carbon dioxide (CO2) is now so low that even the dirtiest coal plants are profitable. That’s why there has actually been an increase in coal-sourced electricity over the past few years.
And the big energy companies, such as RWE and Vattenfall, are still doing their best to block a clean energy future. Rather than reading the sign of the times, these corporations are stubbornly sticking to their old business models, for instance pushing forward the mining of lignite (lignite, often referred to as “brown coal”, is one of the most carbon-intensive fuels around).
The benefits that underpin Germany’s “Energiewende” aren’t just environmental; they are social and economic too. Transforming the energy system combats global climate change, fosters public ownership of renewable generation assets and stimulates job growth within a green energy economy.
Germany will have cut its CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020, and the country aims to meet all – 100% – of its electricity demand with renewables by 2050. The “Energiewende” demonstrates that renewable energy is the best solution for drastically reducing carbon emissions. By being a pioneer in this way, Germany is demonstrating “best practice” in energy transformation that should assure people, governments and business everywhere: this can be done!
But the fight is not over yet. The outdated fossil fuel industry continues to stand in the way of a fair, sustainable energy system for the 21st century – a system that will benefit all of us. When will these dinosaurs from another age accept that it’s our vision of the future that’s going to win this, not theirs?
Karsten Smid is a Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Germany.
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