Germany is 20 years away from 100 percent renewable power – not!

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Energy  Transition

In 2015, Germany added more renewable electricity than ever before in a single year, bringing the share of green power in total supply up to 33 percent. But the government seems keen on slowing down this growth. What is really happening? Craig Morris investigates.

Germany would only need another two decades to reach 100 percent renewable power – theoretically. (Photos by SteKrueBe, modified, CC BY-SA 3.0 and Marie-Christine Schindler, modified, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Germany would only need another two decades to reach 100 percent renewable power – theoretically. (Photos by SteKrueBe, modified, CC BY-SA 3.0 and Marie-Christine Schindler, modified, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last year, Germany generated 32 TWh of additional green electricity – the largest single hike in history. In comparison, it took Germany from 1991 to 2004 to add roughly that amount. The previous annual record increase was 20 TWh in 2012.

Total German power production came in at 647 TWh, a record 50 TWh of which was for export (net) – an increase of around 50 percent above the previous record from 2014. Around eight percent of German electricity was thus generated for export, a level that now rivals France. Remove those exports, and domestic German power demand comes in at 597 TWh, roughly in line with previous years. Renewable electricity made up 30 percent of all power generated and 33 percent of domestic power demand.


As the chart below shows, the share of nuclear fell year-over-year, largely because the next reactor was shut down as a part of the phase-out. Amazingly, natural gas continues to get squeezed out of the power sector; experts already believe it is close to its minimum level (partly for cogeneration) and cannot go down much further. Finally, hard coal and lignite dropped ever so slightly by just under one percent each.


Much of the increase in renewable power generation was wind power, which grew by nearly 29 TWh. Onshore wind is currently booming as developers rush to complete projects before auctions are rolled out in 2017. Likewise, 2015 was a bumper year for the offshore wind sector, where power generation grew from a mere 1.4 TWh to 8.1 TWh. A lot of wind turbines were also added in 2015, so we can expect tremendous additional wind power generation in 2016 as well.

As the chart below shows, the share of renewables in power supply grew by 3.1 percentage points annually in the six years from 2010-2015. With only 66 percent of conventional electricity remaining, the country would only need another two decades to reach 100 percent renewable power – theoretically.


In practice, however, a number of related problems would need to be solved, especially power storage and grid lines. One reason why Rainer Baake, member of the Green Party, was appointed Industry Undersecretary to handle the Energiewende was his history of focusing on the grid, which he called “the bottleneck for the Energiewende” back in 2012 (in German). In addition, Germany would need to scrap its entire conventional fleet, and no one has a solution for those financial challenges.

For this reason, the government adopted a limit – the country’s first ever – on the growth of renewable electricity in 2014. By 2025, Germany is to have no more than 45 percent renewable power. As the chart above shows, growth is to be cut almost by two thirds over the next decade. After all, the official target is 80 percent renewable electricity by 2050, not 100 percent by 2035 (the current theoretical course).

Here, we see the necessity for the transition from feed-in tariffs (FITs) to auctions. FITs allow any project worth doing to go forward, whereas governmental (or utility) experts determine the maximum growth rate in auctions. On December 8, the government published a new paper showing what that new growth would look like. Biogas additions are to be kept below the replacement rate, meaning that the share of this electricity will eventually shrink. Small PV arrays will continue to be built outside of the auction system, so the government will adjust the volume of auctions for wind power and large PV to fill the gap – except that there is also a target for offshore wind of 6.5 gigawatts, which could be increasedto 7.7 GW by 2017.

Last year, offshore alone grew by 6.7 TWh, equivalent to around 1.1 percent of German power demand. At that rate, offshore wind alone might take up practically the entire growth space left. As I pointed out in this blog last summer, the onshore wind market, where community projects have flourished, could be told it can no longer build because the offshore sector has priority.

So while lots of people celebrate 33 percent renewable electricity in Germany, we have our work cut out for us in 2016. The government is about to hand over nearly all of the remaining growth to the large utilities that invest in offshore wind. In the process, the people who drove the transition over the past 25 years would be shut out.

Source: Energy Transition. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • AtomicSprings

    So basically Energiewende exists to replace nuclear with renewables and not reduce GHGs.

    It make sense if you think about in terms of which industries have the greatest profits and political lobbying powers.

    The nuclear industry is one of the most highly regulated, cleanest and safest industries in the world. The UN’s IAEA data should be considered unless you think the UN is part of a worldwide conspiracy.

    Furthermore the cost of nuclear covers all its externalities (unlike other energy alternatives) and most of the revenue from the nuclear industry returns to highly skilled workers (often unionised), education and science institutions and not private profits.

    It is ironic that because nuclear does not make large private profits, and that it has no lobbying powers, that Germany will continue to keep its more profitable and influential coal industry and use renewables to replace nuclear instead of reducing GHGs.

    • Alistair Spong

      ‘Nuclear has no lobbying powers’ – why? Is the industry run by mutes ?

      • Jan Veselý

        Nuclear has the same owners as large fossil plants – utilities.

      • jmdesp

        Inside the nuclear industry, there’s a lot of people who earn money through the scare about radiation. Nuclear grade components sell up to ten times the price, the company that make them could not compete against those who produce the normal version of the component at one tenth of the price.
        So a good part of the industry has actually got some quite strong incentive not to fight against radiation scare.

    • Jo

      “Furthermore the cost of nuclear covers all its externalities (unlike other energy alternatives) ”


      The state stands in for insurance of nuclear which is so expensive that it would ruin the industry. There is no other energy industry that has this benefit.

      Safest? I just read that “Japan’s embattled utility Tokyo Electric Power Co now expects the compensation costs after the Fukushima nuclear disaster to be more than $57 billion,”

      • AtomicSprings

        Please look into how much the nuclear operators have paid into insurance pools compared to how much has been paid out. The insurance arrangements are more than adequate. For argument sake you could even increase insurance funding ten-fold (from say $1/MWh to $10/MWh and this would not significantly impact the economics). Every decision has a consequence so excluding nuclear based on its insurance allocations will result in much higher climate change costs from fossil fuels which are not required to address their externalities.

        • Jo

          Who picks up the bill in a disaster that is too big to be paid by the company and the maximum insurance payment? The state! And you complain about an unlevel playing field?
          Pitching nuclear against fossil fuels because of CO2 credentials is a new trick of nuclear proponents. Compare against renewable energy and you can see which cost is increasing and which is falling. (see chapter about cost in my above reference)

          • AtomicSprings

            This is not a game involving tricks. This is simply a discussion about whether Germany should be using renewables to replace nuclear instead of fossil fuels. The amount paid into nuclear insurance funds is greater than the amount paid out – unless you have evidence proving otherwise. The externalities of fossil fuels far exceed any externalities from nuclear whether or not you accept the cost of nuclear sufficiently covers/incorporates these costs.

          • neroden

            The amount paid into nuclear insurance costs is less than the amount paid out. Examples: Japan. The USSR.

            Case proven.

          • jmdesp

            The cost is artificially inflated by insane fears about radiation level which are at Fukushima far below those naturally existing in nature at several places and which have never had any measurable health impact. There’s a primary school in Ramsar, India, where children are exposed to 250 mSv in 5 years, and scientific studies still find absolutely no health impact : . Hospitals use radiation every day, be it external radiation through scanners, or internal through scintigraphy, it gives a very large scale reference to be certain the impact of low dose is either extremely small (definitively smaller than the one of air pollution in cities) or null.

            Therefore, even worse than the inflated costs, the level of fears and anxiety that the inhabitants of Fukushima have suffered because of completely unsubstantiated claims about radiation is very despicable. Those have had real health consequences when the actual radiations did not.

          • George Carty

            There’s no Ramsar in India — do you mean Kerala? Or do you mean Ramsar in Iran?

          • jmdesp

            Sorry about the confusion, they are studies with very similar results about Kerala in India, but yes by following the link I provided you could have easily confirmed this was Ramsar in Iran.

        • The insurance pool is evidently well short of adequate. And you know that. When the India government told nuclear plant builders they have to accept financial responsibility for the impact of their own constructions, GE and Westinghouse refused to build in that country. That is not wanting to accept an externality. They only agreed to do business when the Indian government agreed to use taxpayer funds if anything goes wrong.

          • AtomicSprings

            The Indian case deserves a detailed discussion, but again the underlying issue here is whether the private profits in the nuclear industry are sufficient and the level of risk/return the foreign proponents are willing to accept. This, however, is not a reflection of the level of insurance coverage of operational nuclear plants. I am willing to consider any evidence that indicates the total amount of nuclear insurance funds collected is less than the amount paid out.

          • JeffJL

            Perhaps if you would provide the figures for the insurance funds (and links to where to find the raw data) Giles, myself and others would take your more seriously AS.

          • jmdesp

            Yes, it’s not workable to make nuclear plant builders accept financial responsibility when it’s another company that operates the plant and that can break it through improper handling.
            If Tepco had been fully ready for the kind of earthquake that was strongly predictable in Japan, they would have saved the Fukushima reactors. It’s actually some bad luck and bad implementation at some critical moments that explains why they failed at Fukushima dai-ichi, whilst they managed to save Fukushima daini. If you don’t know, they had firetrucks on site in time that they could have injected sufficient water to continue cooling the reactors, if things hadn’t gone wrong at that moment.

      • Alex

        So less than Deepwater horizon? And most of that is due to overly cautious evacuation procedures, which have cost more lives than they saved.

  • onesecond

    The boss of one of Germanys largest transmission companies Tennet has stated that 70% intermittent renewable energy sources would not be a problem. The grid is only used as an excuse to slow down renewables. The coal industry is historically entrenched in German politics, especially in the SPD, which controls the ministry of economy that is responsible for slowing down the Energiewende.

    • Alex

      No problem if you pay his company a few 10s of billions to strengthen the North South grid. And if you pay some one else to maintain lots of standby generation.

      • onesecond

        So what? 10s of billions are peanuts compared to the 100s of billions already sank in the nuclear industry for example and the 100s of billions needed to clean it up. Those 10s of billions on the other hand are finally buying something useful. There is no cheaper way to produce electricity than renewables, if you’ll look at ALL the costs and won’t conveniently forget about some.