• Germany's news in English
How Fukushima catalyzed Germany's energy revolution
Photos: DPA.

How Fukushima catalyzed Germany's energy revolution

AFP · 11 Mar 2016, 10:48

Published: 11 Mar 2016 10:48 GMT+01:00
Updated: 11 Mar 2016 10:48 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government cannot boast that the idea of abandoning nuclear energy was its own. 

Launched in 2000, it was originally the brainchild of an earlier coalition government between the Social Democrats under Gerhard Schroeder and the environmentalist Green party.

In late 2010, Merkel decided to roll back Schroeder's plans.

But the March 11th 2011 Fukushima disaster triggered a spectacular policy U-turn where Merkel, a physicist by training, ordered the immediate shutdown of the country's oldest nuclear reactors and resurrected plans for a complete phase-out by 2022.

From then on Germany's "energy transition", under which Europe's biggest economy plans to meet 80 percent of its power needs using renewable sources by 2050, received the world's attention.

"Reactions abroad oscillated between 'an example to the rest of the world' and 'that's not the way to do it'," recalls Patrick Graichen, director of the energy think tank Agora Energiewende.

Other countries, such as neighbouring France, have since decided to emulate Germany's example in the development and promotion of "green" energy.

'Herculean task '

But "Germany has remained alone in wanting to abandon nuclear," said former environment minister Klaus Toepfer, now considered an authority on the subject.

Merkel herself admits the energy transition is a "Herculean task".

There are myriad different aspects to take into consideration, from subsidizing clean energy technologies to the construction of an electricity grid connecting the wind farms on Germany's northern coast to the densely populated regions in the west and south of the country.

An eye also has to be kept on prices: too big a surge in electricity costs would hamper economic competitiveness.

German policymakers have been juggling all of these aspects, to varying degrees of success.

Optimists point out that renewable energy sources accounted for a third of all electricity consumed last year and supply was very firm.

"Increasingly, renewables are becoming the basis of the energy system", acknowledged Johannes Teyssen, chief executive of energy giant E.ON.

Nevertheless, "there is still work to do on fostering energy efficiency and the grid", said Graichen of Agora.

Consultancy McKinsey compiles an energy transition index, which monitors the progress made towards the completion of 15 of the project's sub-targets every six months.

According to its latest update earlier this month, "for the first time in over four years, most of the indicators were negative".

In other words, the realization of several of the energy transition's targets have become "unrealistic".

Keeping a lid on costs is one of them. According to McKinsey, German households' electricity bills are on average 41 percent higher than in the rest of Europe.

Another challenge is lowering Germany's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the gas responsible for climate change.

"It's one of the bitter truths of the energy transition: despite the push towards renewables, CO2 emissions are still rising," said Regine Guenther, of the environmental non-governmental organisation, WWF.

Story continues below…

Critics argue that, by focusing on the power sector, Germany has neglected other areas crucial to the fight against global warming, such as heating and transportation.

Making do without coal

Berlin has so far been slow to promote so-called "e-mobility" or electric transportation systems.

In the energy sector, "we now have to address the question of how to make do without coal," which accounts for 42 percent of the country's electricity production, said WWF's Guenther.

But Berlin is mindful of the jobs that are dependent on the industry, as well as the fate of several big players, especially loss-making coal giant RWE, Europe's number-two power producer.

The weakness of traditional energy companies poses a threat to the proper completion of the nuclear phase-out.

Operators will have to come up with billions of euros to dismantle their nuclear power plants, and no one knows whether the provisions they have set aside will be sufficient or readily available when the time comes.

"The issue of organizing and financing the nuclear phase-out is still not solved", said E.ON's chief executive, Teyssen.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

Couple accused of torturing, murdering women go on trial
The so-called 'house of horrors' in Höxter where the couple allegedly tortured and killed women. Photo: DPA.

A couple accused of luring women to their village home with personal ads started trial on Wednesday over charges that they tortured and killed at least two of their victims.

After July attacks, govt drafts new video surveillance law
Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry is drafting a law which will enable public spaces to be filmed for surveillance purposes as a reaction to deadly attacks in July, according to a newspaper report.

Merkel: murky internet giants distort perception of reality
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Tuesday for internet giants to make public their closely-guarded algorithms, claiming that they are not giving people diverse enough information.

Pegida leader 'paid court costs with group's money'
Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann. Photo: DPA.

The leader of the anti-Islam movement reportedly used money from Pegida's coffers to pay for two personal court cases, German media reported this week.

Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

10 ways German completely messes up your English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd