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For the first time in years, CO2 emissions in Germany are on the decline again. The increased use of renewable energy and a focus on energy efficiency have also brought lower electricity prices.
Germany is pushing ahead with its transition to renewable energy sources. In 2014 the share of renewables in the country's energy mix increased from 25 percent to 28 percent compared to the previous year, while energy from fossil fuels dropped by 7 percent. Around half of German electricity is still produced in coal- and gas-fired power plants.
At the same time, Germany managed to cut down its power consumption in the past year by 3.8 percent, despite a booming economy (+1.4 percent) which generally translates into a higher energy demand.
According to the German think tank Agora Energiewende, which recently published a paper on Germany's energy transition in the power sector, some of the steps to tackle efficiency problems have already started to take effect. "We noticed there are substantial reductions in power consumption thanks to efficient LED technology, and businesses are actively implementing energy-saving measures", the think tank's director Patrick Graichen told DW.
By reducing power consumption and the amount of energy generated from coal, Germany has also been able to cut down its CO2 emissions. According to the energy information alliance AG Energiebilanzen, CO2 emissions decreased by 5 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year. However, 4 percent of that figure is linked to mild weather conditions, while the remaining 1 percent can be attributed to Germany's energy turnaround.
Germany's energy sector is undergoing a radical transition. Renewable energy sources were able to compensate for energy that used to be produced in eight nuclear power plants, which were taken off the grid after the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011. Since then, renewables have increasingly managed to push out energy sources such as black coal and gas. Only brown coal or lignite was able to compete with renewables, because it is cheap. But it is also one of the worst environmental polluters.
In order to meet its climate protection targets, the German government plans to introduce new laws - which should affect the share of energy from brown coal, says Graichen. "That is going to be the big thing in 2015: to draft such a law and then implement it."
Falling energy prices
Agora points out another benefit to Germany's energy policy: energy is getting cheaper. In 2014, prices for energy on the European Energy Exchange (EEX) dropped to a record-low of 3.3 cent per kilowatt hour. That's a decline of 13 percent compared to the previous year. It's good news for private households and industries alike, as energy providers have announced that they will reduce prices.
Since renewable energy sources have become cheaper over the past years, Graichen expects to see an end to rising energy costs. In the past, solar power in particular was expensive, resulting in rising prices. But in the past five years, production costs have dropped by 70 percent. "Renewable energy sources have become the cheapest technology now," Graichen said.