The Energiewende in Germany: Background, Developments and Future Challenges

This article explores the background to the Energiewende in Germany and recent developments. Specifically, it examines the ongoing politics of this commitment to phase-out nuclear power, reduce fossil fuel use and ensure continued economic growth. Distinctions between the German Energiewende and energy transitions in other countries are drawn, the actions undertaken and the forms of governance and politics shaping them outlined. While Germany is a leader in renewable energy, and the broad societal consensus against nuclear power is uniquely German, political and societal conflicts of a more general nature are emerging. Other countries follow closely developments occuring in Germany and may learn from the German experience. The key objective of this article is thus to draw attention to the politics of the Energiewende in Germany and the key debates and difficult decisions emerging.

This paper explores German “exceptionalism”1 in nuclear policy, explaining the background to the Energiewende, describing the developments which are taking place and the politics defining them. The decision to phase out nuclear power attracted much attention and the actual policies and legislation which have been implemented in the renewable energy sector have influenced other countries. However, there has been less international discussion on the range of economic, environmental, social, and political challenges to achieving the Energiewende. Having reversed the 1998 SPD2- Green3 coalition’s law to phase-out nuclear power in 2010, the decision, taken after much public and political debate, to go back to implementing the phase-out represents a major policy reversal from the CDU4-FDP5 coalition government of Angela Merkel. It can also be argued that the present CDUFDP coalition government has committed itself to the implementation of a policy to which they do not really subscribe.
Furthermore, the Energiewende is still at present an objective awaiting a coherent policy framework. The detailed, far-reaching, and, thus, difficult decisions on how the transition to renewable energy can be achieved have yet to be made. Conflicts are likely to increase in the future. Besides the technological challenges, the core issue to be tackled here is how much the Energiewende will cost and who should pay for it. Just how much can the already high prices for domestic energy consumption in Germany increase? In such a context, should the large industrial consumers of energy have been granted tariff exemptions?
Overall, the paper argues that the unique set of characteristics which have shaped the Energiewende should not blind observers to the more universal challenges of achieving the transition. The “exceptionalism” of Germany, the broad consensus against nuclear energy, the influential Green Party, and the commitment to renewable energy technologies, should not be mistaken for a consensus on how the Energiewende should be achieved. Conflict has defined the implementation of climate and energy policy-making in Germany, and it will continue to do so. Overall, it is argued that other countries may learn from Germany’s positive and negative experiences with the general challenges of implementation.
The paper is structured as follows. The first section details the roots and development of the Energiewende. The second section addresses the events of the seemingly decisive year of 2011, notably Fukushima, Stuttgart 21, and the state election in Baden-Württemberg. This leads to a consideration of the future challenges and ongoing politics of the Energiewende. The paper concludes by identifying what other countries might potentially learn from Germany’s successes and failures.

Copyright: © Lexxion Verlagsgesellschaft mbH
Quelle: Issue 01/2013 (April 2013)
Seiten: 10
Preis inkl. MwSt.: € 41,65
Autor: Dr. Ross Beveridge
Prof. Dr. Kristine Kern

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