Europe is facing a global energy crisis. Many countries, Germany in particular, have become increasingly dependent on Russia’s gas supplies over the years instead of intensively investing in the production of renewable energies. This article will show if and how Germany could be able to be 100% self-sufficient in renewable energies. Germany works as a good example for the energy supply of the world.
The Fossil fuel-based energy production leads to the degradation of the environment and daily life, see Figure 1.
With an electricity mix consisting of approximately 42% renewables, Germany is already in the top third of the global ranking1. Germany will not be able to achieve its climate goals within the required deadlines if climate protection policies and the expansion of renewable energies are not drastically improved. As you can see in the graph below (see Figure 2), the production of renewable energies in 2021 has decreased by about 4.7% compared to 2020.
Power generation from wind plants particularly decreased by 13.3%2. Two main reasons demonstrate the limits and disadvantages of renewable energies very well — especially for wind and solar energy. The first one is that less wind or sun hours per day result in these plants not producing enough energy. The second reason is that there are political and societal disagreements. One example is a new German law stating that windmills have to stand at least 1000 metres away from residential areas. All previously built windmills that are closer to residential areas had to be shut down3.
Germany has to become carbon neutral by 2045 and reduce CO2 emissions by about 65% by 20304. This led us to our research question: Does Germany have the potential and capacities to become self-sufficient and carbon-neutral and what social, economic and ecological challenges does this transmission entail? Figure 2 shows the renewable energy mix in Germany.
The transmission from fossil energy to a self-sufficient renewable energy system is one of the biggest challenges Germany has to deal with in order to become carbon neutral and achieve its climate goals 5. It is also very expensive. In the last two decades alone, since the implementation of the German renewable energy law in 2000, the government has subsidised 500 bn €.
Every renewable energy facility that was built in this period was subsidised by the government and will be paid off over a period of 20 years. One-third of the plants have already been paid off. The last one is expected to be paid off in 2037. While it is a big investment, it is a necessary one to jump-start a transformation of this scale and promote the development of renewable energies6. To put it in perspective: fossil fuels have been subsidised with up to 400 bn € and are still continuously being subsidised.
Future Projects Cost
The previous investments for the expansion of new power plants and the research of new technologies have paved the way for a new industrial sector to grow. This has led to a drastic reduction in the costs of purchasing various production technologies for renewables. Figure 3 shows the cost reduction for wind and solar within ten years (2008-2018). The cost of windmills has halved and the price of photovoltaic technology has dropped by up to eighty percent, see Figure 3.
So how will future projects be financed? The government will not subsidise another 500 bn €. But the industry is now so well-established that it generates several billion euros in taxes each year7. About 57.1 bn € of energy taxes have been paid in 2020 alone, including electricity tax, oil tax, etc.
For additional income, a so-called CO2 tax was implemented in 2020. Companies and private households have to pay taxes if they are emitting a lot of CO2 emissions. In 2020 the government set a price of 25 € per ton of emitted CO2 and generated taxes totalling 12.5 bn €. In 2022 the price increased to 30 € and from 2025 onwards, one ton of CO2 emitted is going to cost 55 €.
In 2011, the German government implemented an energy and climate fund. Every year they provide money through this fund, starting with about 700 thousand € in 2011 and up to 4.5 bn € in 2019. All the money generated with the taxes previously mentioned is deposited there and can only be spent on renewable energy projects8.
Potential Capacities of Renewable Energies in Germany
Wind energy has the most potential of all possible renewable energy variations in Germany. If Germany uses the maximum space that can be provided (13.4% of space and a distance of 600 metres from settlements), they can produce up to 2900 Terawatt hours (TWh) per year including 200 TWh per year from offshore facilities. Right now, Germany consumes about 517 TWh per year. Even with a minimum use of space (3.4%) and a settlement distance of 1200 metres, windmills (on and off-shore) could provide up to 600 TWh per year9.
It is unlikely that Germany will expand solar systems in open spaces significantly. But the fact that systems can be installed on buildings and noise barriers means that solar energy has the potential to generate about 200 TWh per year9. The city of Hamburg for example has implemented a law stating that every public building built in 2023 or after has to have a certain number of photovoltaic cells installed on its roof10. If the federal government were to adopt the law and expand it to private buildings, the potential would be much higher.
While being a very effective way to produce green energy, hydropower also has the most impact on nature. Especially if barrages need to be built. The government has passed a law that limits production to 25 TWh per year. By optimising existing hydropower plants and building new pumped storage power plants, an output of 22 TWh per year can be realised10.
It is difficult to give exact numbers because there are still too many unknown components, but a compilation of the results of several studies on the energy potential of biomass in Germany yields a total potential in the range of 235 to 315 TWh per year.
Advantages of Renewable Energy Sources
From a sustainable point of view, using renewable energy sources is the most effective way to prevent climate change. They are unbeatable compared to fossil fuels, see in Figure 411. The second advantage is more economic. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy production only requires the plants, storage stations and power grids to be built once and then never again. It is a one-time-investment, apart from maintenance. After that, there is no need for huge ships and trucks to transport, which also consume huge amounts of fuel and therefore emit CO2. The inspection and maintenance demand is relatively low. This would eliminate a major cost factor and save money and capacities for technological improvements in the long run, see Figure 412.
Introduction to the Issues
As shown before, Germany theoretically has the potential to sustain itself on only renewable energies. To make it a reality, both the economic and social aspects have to be kept in mind. In the following sections, we will focus on those social aspects and look for what to consider in order to transform Germany into a state that is fully self-sufficient with its renewable energies.
A popular argument against the transformation to renewable energies is the potential loss of jobs in fossil industries such as coal and oil. In late 2021, around 25,000 people were working in the coal industry in Germany15. These are jobs that will inevitably be gone with the end of coal mining, making it a very real issue for the people impacted. Still, the transformation towards renewable energies has a way higher potential in creating jobs than in losing them, as a study shows16.
While this is welcome news indeed, it is important to keep an eye on two things in particular. First, a lot of people need to be trained at a new job. Not only people who decide to enter this growing industry but also those who have previously worked in coal or oil and are now redirected to working in renewables. In Germany, a lot of new businesses and state departments are established in areas known to have a lot of coal workers. But those workers need to be schooled in what could be their new job. It’s not only important to have competent people in jobs but also to keep the public on board in a challenging transformation. To succeed in coal mining areas, offering good perspectives to people losing their jobs to the energy transition is crucial.
Nature and Politics
Wind energy parks can create problems for nature, especially for birds. According to Naturschutzbund Germany (NABU), a German nature conservancy association, about 100,000 birds die every year because of wind parks. But other animals are also affected. Making wind energy parks more wildlife-friendly must be a priority in future research and projects.
In Weingarten in Baden-Württemberg, there are huge areas that could potentially be used for wind parks. To protect the big frog populations thriving around Weingarten, the construction of further onshore wind parks is opposed by locals. The goal is for two percent of German land to be used for the production of wind energy by 2032 — that also counts for every state. So far only 0.8% are identified as potential areas and only 0.5% are actually in use17.
In Saxony, only 0.2% of the state’s area has been identified as potential areas until 2019. In 2021 Saxony built one wind turbine, in 2022 there were only five built. To meet the goals for 2032, Saxony would have to build 40 to 50 new wind turbines each year starting now. The difference between the states´ commitment to these goals is a major issue for the German government.
Since every state can make its own law on how much distance a wind turbine has to keep from residential areas, the potentials for wind energy are very different. While most state laws have agreed on distances between 400 and 1000 metres, Bavaria leaves the common ground with a minimum distance of 2000 metres. This slims the potential areas of use substantially.
That shows a huge challenge German politics are facing: compromising between state governments. And having the laws laid out so change can happen. What that means will be shown in the next section.
More and more, new directives and regulations of the European Union provide the 27 member states with a minimum standard for renewable energies, their expansion, and their enforcement. One of the EU’s current steps in the fight against climate change is the Green Deal. With the European Green Deal Regulation, a series of measures have been adopted which, among other things, provide for the energy supply through so-called clean energy in the coming years. In addition to ensuring affordable energy prices and digitising the EU energy market, this topic focuses on the development of the energy sector towards primarily renewable energy sources.
In addition, the member countries act with laws, regulations, and subsidies at the national level to promote a sustainable energy supply. Countries such as Sweden are far ahead when it comes to sustainability in a European comparison as you can see in the following figure.
Up until December 2019, the Federal Republic of Germany had not recorded a national climate protection law and thus climate protection targets and sector targets by law. According to the Federal Constitutional Court, the legislator did not fully comply with its obligations and declared the new law “incompatible with fundamental rights”, because there was no regulation on the continuation of the national reduction target for the period from 2031. In addition, there is still a lack of a concrete path for the expansion of renewable energies. It is questionable how such a mistake was not noticed during the legislative process.
Not only the federal government but also the federal states are making use of their legislative competence. Due to federalism, however, the climate protection laws of the federal states are not homogeneous. Hamburg, in particular, became active at the state level at an early stage for climate protection in the Free Hanseatic City. In 2020, the Hamburg Climate Protection Act (HmbKliSchG) came into force. The law lays down measures for the economical use of energy and obliges the city to save energy in public buildings and to take into account the energy consumption of systems or equipment in the context of procurement18.
Nevertheless, efforts to create a legal framework at national and federal level have met with much criticism. Critics from economic sectors and institutions claim that the Renewable Energy Law (German: Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz, (EEG)) has no economic benefit. From the point of view of the critics, the costs for the promotion of renewable energies are disproportionately high and lead to a difficult-to-control expansion of further plants. They therefore call for the rates of remuneration to be awarded through a tendering system19. In addition, the support system is complicated and therefore also a deterrent for citizens.
The annual demand for renewable energy will continue increasing. That means that society hasn’t yet reached the point where energy savings through technical innovations outweigh rising consumption. Thus, the hypothetical goal being a 50 percent reduction of the current energy consumption in Germany can be divided into two factors: 70 percent of the reduction ideally happening due to the development and improvement of technical innovations and 30 percent thanks to a fundamental change in consumer behavior.
When it comes to the social aspects, it is clear that becoming self-sufficient with renewable energies and climate neutral is a huge task. For that to happen, political communication with the public must be extremely good. Renewable energies create more jobs than would be lost when ending the production of fossil fuels, but it is mandatory that advanced training is offered. People who work in fossil energies must get different types of support. The objective of two percent of land being dedicated to wind parks by 2032 is still far from reality. It is crucial that endangered species are protected while working towards this goal and to avoid ecological damage as much as possible. At the same time, it should not be used as an excuse for the continued use of fossil fuels.
The legislator has created a clear regulation but still needs to expand it. Indispensable regulations are the best way to lead Germany to climate neutrality and thus underline its importance. Renewable energies are regarded as generally environmentally friendly and an important instrument for climate and environmental protection.
Given the difficulties above can be eliminated in the future, Germany certainly has the potential to rely entirely on renewable energy.
The authors would like to thank Prof. Dr. Mohamed El Sayed, Cairo University, Faculty of Engineering for the support of the above seminar series for many years.
About the Authors
Josephen Pomaah studied law at the College of Leuphana University Lüneburg in Germany. She completed her bachelor’s thesis this summer and is expected to continue her studies in law this October in order to graduate as a fully qualified lawyer.
Anton Burmester studies Cultural Sciences at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. He is now finishing his studies and writing his Bachelor´s thesis on techno music and Adornos cultural industry. He also works as a music and politics journalist for a German broadcasting station and organizes cultural events.
Giuseppe Petaroscia studies Business Engineering and Sustainability at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany. He is a qualified electrician and previously worked as a technician for logistics facilities. Alongside his studies, he is a working studen for a big intralogistics company and will continue to work there as a projectmanager for corporate sustainability projects
Michael Palocz-Andresen is a guest professor at BUAP Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. From 2018-2021, he worked as a Herder-professor supported by the DAAD at the TEC de Monterrey in Mexico. He became a full professor at the University of West Hungary 2005-2017. Currently, he is a guest professor at the TU Budapest, the Leuphana University Lüneburg, and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He is a Humboldt scientist and instructor of the SAE International in the USA.
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