A revolution from below or geopolitical power play? Analysing Germany’s green energy commitments.
Germany’s ‘Green Revolution’, an unprecedented and ambitious step towards Europe’s energy transition seems to be moving towards becoming a reality.
The current energy crisis is fuelling the drive towards renewables in Europe’s largest economy. Germany currently obtains 41% of its energy from renewable sources, and as of April’s declaration by German chancellor Olaf Scholz, the bar is set for 100% of its energy to be sourced from renewable sources by 2035.
Traditionally, Germany has been on the front foot in European energy reform, with Europe’s largest and most industrialised economy venturing away from oil and natural gas (a key aspect of Germany’s foreign policy following the 2003 Invasion of Iraq). The desire to not get involved in conflict in order to secure oil was one of the core principles of Germany’s foreign policy under Chancellor Angela Merkel. However this meant closer relations with Russia and therefore its state-owned gas company Gazprom.
Germany’s relationship with Russia deepened in the mid 2000s, at the same time as support for Germany’s Green Party grew. While German voters remain concerned regarding unemployment issues, fiscal stability and international affairs, the climate crisis has remained a top priority at the ballot box and the main reason for the Green Party’s strong performance in the 2021 German elections. Thus the issue of the climate crisis is essential in the coalition government headed by Olaf Scholz and the Social Democratic Party. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of the strictest sanctions regime in the world, Europe’s economies and Germany in particular can no longer depend on Russian oil and gas.
A key part in the Green Party’s success in the 2021 election was the ‘generational shift’ in German politics that has served as “water to their mills” according to Andreas Kraemer, the director of the German Ecologic Institute. The younger generations have presented a mighty force at the ballot box and social organisations such as ‘Fridays for Future’ have given the Green Revolution its name. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, bilateral relations with Russia and Germany’s relationship with Gazprom have been called into question.
This situation has played into the hands of the Green Party and those calling for further energy reform in the wider European Union, with the bloc seeking to meet 100% of energy needs with renewables by 2050. This goal that was seen by many as not reflecting the urgency of the climate crisis, even prior to the crisis in Ukraine and renewed calls for European ‘strategic sovereignty’ in the energy sector.
The Renewable Energy Act (passed in July 2022) seems to be at the forefront of the ‘Green Revolution’, with the legislative package being one of the most comprehensive ever. It ordered the abolishment of the renewable electricity surcharge and included provisions for the acceleration of offshore and onshore wind planning, the acceleration of grid expansion and efficiency measures, raising the standard of energy efficiency for newly constructed buildings and the requirement for all new buildings to be equipped with solar panels.
This extensive legislative agenda is divided between Easter and Summer packages, with the summer package including more measures to digitalise and simplify planning. This ‘streamlining’ of planning legislation and increased funding for wind power is meant to double Germany’s offshore wind production to 113 GigaWatts by 2030 and almost double the percentage of land that federal states have to designate for onshore wind power.
What has changed now is everyone realises we need to ramp up renewable capacity even faster. The war is making it very clear that if you want to control your own fate, it’s better to prioritise renewables and end reliance on fossil fuels.Matthias Buck, Europe director at Agora Energiewende, a think tank that focuses on energy transition.
This was the primary motivation behind Germany’s new ‘green hydrogen’ deal with Angola, signed in June 2022. Angola will become the first African country to supply Germany with green hydrogen, in an attempt to find an alternative to natural gas, the majority of which is used in industry. With industry being a major consumer of natural gas, finding alternatives remains ever more pressing as Germany approaches a stage where they will no longer be dependent on foreign imports for electricity. The deal is a memorandum of understanding, pledging funds for the construction of a factory which is set to produce around 280,000 tons of green ammonia in 2024.
According to Sonangol, the Angolan state oil company, the nation has considerable potential to produce green hydrogen, but the efficient transportation of green hydrogen from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe relies on pipelines and infrastructure that does not yet exist. Hydrogen has long been touted as a ‘silver bullet’ that will address Germany’s energy needs whilst producing no carbon emissions. It can therefore provide an essential tool in tackling the climate crisis and presenting Europe to an alternative to Russia’s oil and gas.
The commitments that Scholz’s government have made show continual resolve in finding ‘long-term’ solutions to achieving energy independence from Russia and tackling the climate crisis. Germany has not yet provided an urgent solution to what an ever-growing part of the electorate view as urgent issues. The German government recently pledged 40 billion euros to develop green hydrogen infrastructure in Namibia, Angola’s Southern neighbour. Germany has also established a hydrogen office in Nigeria, exploring the viability of producing climate-friendly hydrogen not only for export but as a tool for assisting other nations in the energy transition.
In Germany’s cities, consumers are tightening their belts as electricity prices rose by 20% and gas prices doubled in the second quarter of 2022, according to Deutsche Welle. As more time passes, Germany faces a challenge as the war in Ukraine worsens and the climate crisis becomes ever more dire, yet the cost of living for its residents grows.
The question remains whether there can be more done by the government with immediate effect and where the priority lies. Is it better for Germany to achieve immediate energy sovereignty, or to keep their place as Europe’s frontrunner in climate policy? Despite renewables presenting a solution to both problems, Germany continues to seek an immediate remedy to its woes and a reverse to the negative perception of natural gas that has existed amongst policy makers over the last few decades: now it is seen as a “bridge to the future”. Scholz’s seeming determination to continue the policy of phasing out nuclear power plants and his steadfast decision not to ‘re-carbonise’ the energy sector presents good news for the move towards renewable energy, possibly leading to even more government support and funding, increased subsidies and more streamlined legislation in the coming months.