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Energy transition

Gero Rueter / spOctober 18, 2013

A new survey conducted after recent parliamentary polls show most Germans want a quick transition to decentralized clean, renewable energy. But rising electricity prices could dampen enthusiasm for the green plan.

Two men at the citizens' wind turbine in Schleswig Holstein. (Photo: Farys/Die Projektoren) Bild gemacht für die Kampagne: "Die Energiewende in Bürgerhand"
Image: Farys/Die Projektoren

During all the discussions between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and other potential coalition partners in Berlin these last few weeks, one topic has remained high on the agenda all along: what direction will Germany’s future energy policy take?

Germany’s energy transition, or Energiewende as it is known domestically, is a long-term plan to slash carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy. Germany hopes to generate at least 35 percent of its electricity from green sources by 2020; by 2050, the renewables share is planned to surpass 80 percent.

But just how popular is the ambitious green energy plan among Germans? Shortly after the German elections, research institute TNS Emnid surveyed over 1,000 people to get a sense of the nation’s mood on energy issues.

An overwhelming majority - some 84 percent - of those interviewed said they expect the new government to push for a quick switch to an energy system powered 100 percent by renewable sources of energy.

In addition, 83 percent said they want the profits and costs of the energy turnaround to be distributed fairly among citizens and energy companies. Currently, it’s largely private households and small companies that are shouldering a host of "shared costs" for an expansion of renewables. Certain large, energy-intensive companies have in recent years been exempted from paying the surcharge.

Pricing still a problem

Another survey by research group Forsa in summer came up with a similar result. At the time, 82 percent of the respondents said they were in favor of the energy transition but were critical of the way it was being implemented. Rising energy prices for German consumers was cited as the biggest disadvantage.

A fast, citizen-driven energy transition enjoys the backing of voters of all major political parties. Not surprisingly, over 90 percent of supporters of the German Greens back the plan. Among the center-left Social Democrats it’s over 80 percent and over 70 percent of conservative party voters showed their support.

English graphic on Germans' view of the energy transition

The Emnid survey also asked respondents what they thought of the energy policies of the government led by Chancellor Merkel so far. About 55 percent said the policies tilted too heavily in favor of energy companies, 22 percent said they were happy with the policies while 19 percent said the interests of utilities weren’t sufficiently taken into account.

'A level playing field'

Germany’s energy transition is already visible to anyone traveling through the country. Over a million citizens and farmers already have solar panels installed on their roofs or are joint owners of a windpark and the Emnid survey predicts that could rise to over 20 million citizens in the future.

Around a third of those surveyed said they would definitely like to get financially involved in energy systems in their neighborhoods while a further 30 percent said they would consider the possibility.

"This desire to have a financial stake in the energy transition is especially noticeable among middle-income groups. It’s not just confined to the rich," René Mono, a renewable energy campaigner from Berlin, told DW.

The reason for the "overwhelmingly high approval of the energy transition" is the success of Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG), according to Mono. The law allows ordinary citizens without specialized knowledge to invest in renewable energy systems and also allows owners of solar panels and wind turbines to sell their electricity to the grid at a fixed price over 20 years. That makes the investment safe and easy to calculate. The EEG "has created the framework so that citizens also have a level playing field," Mono said.

Other experts like Hubert Weiger, chairman of the environment group BUND, are urging the German government, currently involved in coalition talks, to take citizens‘ wishes into account and not put the brakes on the pace of the energy transition. Gerd Billen of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations warned lawmakers against jeopardizing the high popularity and support for the green energy revolution. "Consumers are paying for the energy transition," Billen said. "Energy prices simply cannot be allowed to rise further."