1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Questioning the energy transition

Johanna Schmeller / uheAugust 12, 2013

Two years ago, Germany ushered in a new era of energy production, shifting from nuclear and fossil fuel to mainly wind and sun. Though the policy is still supported by most Germans, the moods of many are slowly changing.

An offshore wind park
Image: Jorgen True/AFP/Getty Images

Germans have long been known as environmentally conscious people. They separate their garbage for recycling, prefer using public transport or their bicycle to go to work - and, increasingly in recent years, invest in sun and wind to generate their electricity.

In a poll done in January 2012, 61 percent of Germans said they would be willing to pay more for electricity if it were to come from renewable resources. Nuclear energy was condoned by only a small minority.

However, Germany's green energy revolution appears to be losing steam. Accelerated in 2011 by the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, the German government's shift in energy policy is now facing mounting resistance.

Rising costs undermine support

One out of two Germans has grown critical of the policy change, according to a recent survey by German pollster Forsa, commissioned by the consumer advocacy group, vzbv.

wind turbines and solar panels
Wind turbines and solar panels - not in my neighborhood, more and more Germans are sayingImage: picture-alliance

Even though two-thirds of the population acknowledge the benefits for the environment, some 40 percent disagree with how the government has been handling the transformation to renewables.

They cite rising electricity prices resulting from preferential treatment of renewable energy generators as a main reason for their anger.

Under Germany's renewable energies law, the transformation of energy policy is financed through a surcharge on electricity bills. However, so-called energy-intensive industries, as well as firms competing in globalized markets, were exempted from the surcharge. This means that consumers and domestic enterprises also end up covering their share of renewable energy costs.

In 2013, the price of electricity is expected to rise as surcharge exceptions granted by the state exceed 7 billion euros ($9.3 billion) for the first time in a year, the International Economic Forum for Renewable Energies calculated.

Scientific doubts

However, it's not only popular anger in the face of higher electricity bills that undermines support for the energy shift in Germany.

Prof. Dr. Horst-Joachim Lüdecke
Horst-Joachim Lüdecke says Germany is heading down a blind alley with its renewables driveImage: Horst-Joachim Lüdecke

From a natural science point of view, the change towards green energy was an absurd undertaking, said physicist Horst-Joachim Lüdecke.

Noting that renewables yield less energy than fossil fuels, he commented to DW on differing amounts of energy in various sources: "You can hold out your hand in a storm, but not put it into a furnace."

Wind does not have a high-enough energy density, he added, which would make it necessary to build a huge number of wind farms to cover Germany's rising or at least stable energy needs in future.

Moreover, the costs of secondary effects such as greater land use and falling property prices near wind farms has not yet been calculated.

What also needs to be added to the bill, Lüdecke said, is the cost of building sufficient grid capacity to transport electricity from Germany's wind-rich coastal areas to the industrial zones in the south of the country. Lüdecke thinks building out the new energy grid will make the costs explode.

electricity pylons
Germany will have to build out its electricity grid in order to transport dispersed production ofImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Back to the drawing board

Lüdecke considers the German green energy revolution to be collapsing, and calls for a return to the former fossil and nuclear-based energy policy as the only reasonable solution.

German consumer advocacy group vzbv, however, is more optimistic. The lobby group's energy expert Holger Krawinkel told DW that countries such as Denmark and Austria have been showing how to make do without nuclear energy.

"The big challenge in Germany is to put in place a reasonable administrative setup for the policy change, and not succumb to special interests," he said.

With a view to vzbv's recent survey, however, he admitted that the costs of the German energy transition should be reduced and better controlled, in order to increase acceptance for the new policy among the population at large.