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After weeks of debate, the German parliament gave the green light Friday, June 6 to wide-reaching legislation on climate protection, a day before a meeting in Japan between the energy ministers of the G8 nations.
Are the winds of change about to blow through Germany again?
The Bundestag passed legislation that trims cross-subsidies for the booming solar-power industry while boosting other methods of cutting carbon emissions when generating electricity.
"This is a major step forward," said Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
The new laws are designed to help reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent less than 1990 levels by 2020. So far, a 20 percent reduction has already been reached, with the four new laws expected to result in a further 10 percent drop.
The government hopes to see a doubling of green electricity to 30 percent by 2020, with wind energy boosted and solar energy cut back.
Package of bills
The package included increasing the number of combined heat and power generation plants and focusing on electricity and heat from renewable sources, as well as allowing competition among electricity and gas meter reader companies.
Tele-heating, where power stations pipe their surplus hot water into homes during Europe's chilly winters, is to be encouraged. By 2020, about a quarter of German electricity stations will use their waste heat this way. About one eighth do so now.
The package of bills also encourages improved insulation so that centrally heated buildings do not lose so much heat through walls, ceilings and windows.
Germany's early enthusiasm for photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight into electricity, has faded a little, with the emphasis back on wind turbines and geothermal plants that obtain heat from the soil, and sometimes from hot rock deep underground.
Coal plants need to be equipped with state of the art technology
Gabriel admitted that the new laws would entail a hike in energy prices.
With an election due next year, the legislation has been controversial because the extra costs will be loaded onto householders' and businesses' electricity bills at a time when German
consumers are already glum over soaring fuel costs.
Under a compromise hammered out by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, power companies are to pay less for power fed into the national grid from solar panels on the roofs of homes, but will come under pressure to use more wind power.
The legislation faces its next test in the Bundesrat upper house, where the 16 state governments hold sway.
Energy technology revolution
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said the same day that the world needed to spend one percent of its economic output every year to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, calling for an "energy technology revolution" to curb global warming.
Unless governments act now, carbon dioxide emissions will rise by 130 percent by the middle of the century and oil demand will grow 70 percent, the IEA said in the report published in Tokyo.
Sigmar Gabriel conceded that energy prices would rise
To halve carbon dioxide emissions, the world would need to spend an additional 29 trillion euros ($45 trillion) on clean energy technologies by 2050 -- one percent of average annual gross domestic product over the period, it estimated.
"There should be no doubt that meeting the target of a 50 percent cut in emissions represents a formidable challenge," Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the Paris-based IEA, told a press
conference. "We would require immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale. It would essentially require a new global technological revolution which would completely transform the way we produce and use energy."
Halving emissions would require on average about 35 coal and 20 gas-fired power plants every year to be fitted with the technology to capture and store the carbon dioxide they belch out, the report said.
The world would also need to build an additional 32 new nuclear power plants every year along with 17,500 wind turbines.
Tanaka noted that, according to the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, such deep emission cuts are needed to limit global warming to two to three degrees Celsius up to the end of the century.
The IEA said no single form of energy or technology could solve the problem alone, calling for increased use of carbon dioxide capture and storage, renewable and nuclear energy and better energy efficiency.