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Germany’s Green Energy Shift Is More Fizzle Than Sizzle


Germany’s enormously expensive Energiewende green energy transformation is sputtering. The numbers tell the story. Despite spending about €150 billion and years of political effort to scrap nuclear and fossil fuels and switch to renewables like wind and solar, Germany is expected to fall short on pretty much all its national and EU emission reduction and clean energy targets for 2020.


High power prices, continued coal dependency and a “poor CO2 emissions record” mean Germany is falling behind other countries in shifting away from fossil fuels, according to McKinsey’s new global Energy Transition Index. In Europe, 11 countries including Sweden, Austria, Denmark, the U.K. and France do better in cutting coal dependency and greening their energy systems.

Renewable power last year surged to 36 percent of the country’s electricity use, according to the Agora Energiewende think tank. But while renewables grew in the power sector, they didn’t make major strides in transport or heating, so they account for just over 13 percent of energy use.

Missing EU targets could trigger hefty fines from the European Commission.

“Germany as a pioneering country is on the brink of failure,” Patrick Graichen, the head of Agora Energiewende, said in a January assessment.

The European Commission’s latest country assessment, published earlier this month, found that Germany is at “considerable risk” of missing its national energy efficiency target of 20 percent by 2020. For now, it is still expected to meet its 2020 renewable energy target of 18 percent, although Germany’s renewable energy lobby warns the country might miss that goal too.

Germany is also set to fall short of its national climate target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020. The new coalition government effectively abandoned that goal, instead focusing on meeting its 2030 target of reducing emissions by 55 percent. Germany is also expected to miss its emissions reduction target for sectors such as transport and buildings.

Missing EU targets could trigger hefty fines from the European Commission.

“Germany, as far as energy policy is concerned, is the biggest fraud globally,” said an EU official. “The public image of German energy policy is very green, but if you check the data, it’s a different story.”

The cost of green

For years Germany was one of the world’s energy transformation leaders. It was German cash that helped finance the technology revolution that has turned solar and wind into viable technologies that now generate increasingly cheap power.

But for consumers that has come with a cost.  Many households grapple with ever more expensive electricity prices, bearing the cost of shuttering nuclear power plants early and building up renewables

“Many consumers can’t get rid of the feeling, ‘I support the Energiewende and pay a lot for it, but climate protection isn’t really advancing,’” Klaus Mueller, head of the German consumer lobby Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband told German radio earlier this month.

“An average four-person household has to pay more than double for power in 2017 compared to 2000,” Mueller said, adding that retail customers feel they’re bearing the brunt of the cost of transformation, which is added to their power bills, while big industrial users get off much more lightly.

The powerful German business lobby BDI is also unhappy, saying in a recent report that high electricity costs, delays in boosting the energy efficiency of buildings, and a “lack of vision” on transport are “worrying German industry.”

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