Talking German, the cars and the machines that come out of Germany are not the only remarkable things I have a high regard for, recently I have become acquainted with other exceptional things that Germany produces. One of them is furniture and the other is the approach to energy transition. Yes, that is a thing and it is major.
Germany’s energy transition is called Energiewende which literally means ‘energy U-turn’ or more elaborately, energy transition. The aim is to completely phase out the use of fossil and nuclear power and grow a country that relies solely on renewable energy sources. The government is doing this to ensure Germany as a nation has a greater control and power of its own energy in the future, to reduce the hazards associated with other energy sources such as nuclear and most importantly to create an environmentally friendly source of energy.
The focus was initially on phasing out fossil energy sources and then the nuclear energy source, but after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany made a decision to phase out its Nuclear energy sources in a shorter period of time than earlier envisaged. Currently Germany is looking to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022, with eight immediately shut down in Berlin after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel considers the Energiewende an herculean task which must be achieved. Energy transition does not come cheap, but it’s long term effects are remarkable.
Germany spends 1.5billion Euros on energy research annually. Amidst electricity tariff hike, the average German is aware of the government’s aim to shift to alternative energy sources and over 90% of german citizens are in support of the Energiewende. Unfortunately the cost of increased tariff has to be borne by household consumers and small enterprises because industry has a frozen tariff system based on agreement which was put in place to help maintain their global competition.
According to Vaclay Smil, a notable energy transition expert, German’s task may seem overly ambitious but it is soon to become the norm in a couple of decades. He reminds us that only about 70 years ago, major energy sources came from wood and coal in many parts of the world, but right now, there has been a transition to less dense hydrocarbons sources such as natural gas and petroleum.
Germany has recognised several alternative energy sources but is focused on two of the most important sources to develop on a large scale which are wind and solar. Biogas is also fairly common. While several countries has in the past decades increased their energy consumption and green house gas emission, Germany has been able to record about 27% decrease in green house gases between 1990 and 2004, with a plan to achieve a further 85-90% decrease by 2050.
Let’s consider the socio-economic benefits of the Energiewende. The oligopoly which exists where a few energy companies supply electricity to the populace thereby gaining a high political power, influence and profits will cease to exist. Alternative energy sources encourages owning and generating power independently, or a small scale by small energy resellers.
A few things other countries can learn from the success of Germany’s Energiewende.
- That a coherent government policy can and will transform an industry. Policies do not have to be changed with every government, but rather implemented, revised and continued.
- That the education of the populace about the goals of the government is very essential. Germans took the hit of increased tariff because they understood he destination and the path to the destination their government is headed. In fact there has been protest about the need to make sure the energy transition is not tampered with and implemented effectively.
- Lack of planning does not achieve any success. Germany began talks about its Energiewende as far back as 1980. Today, the country has recorded a remarkable 27% of its energy sources from alternative energy sources and only making more plans to achieve complete energy transition.
- Switching to alternative energy is affordable in the long run. Several researches have proved that the investments made in renewables today will pay for themselves in about 20 years on an average. Many of the systems have little to negligible maintenance cost.
- More jobs will be created by alternative energy sources. Per megawatt per hour of electricity generated from alternative sources, more jobs will be created than from nuclear and fossil power sectors.