Germany’s reliance on lignite, which accounts for more than a fifth of annual power generation, is a key reason why the country is struggling to lower its emissions of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases. The Energiewende has led to a dramatic rise in the number of wind and solar plants across Germany, lifting renewables from 6 per cent of total power generation in 2000 to 36 per cent last year. The surge is the result of Germany’s pioneering renewables subsidy regime, introduced in 2000, which prioritised power from wind and solar and guaranteed producers a fixe d tariff over 20 years. The extra cost was passed on to consumers via a surcharge. The regime has gone through reforms and adjustments, but the overall cost to taxpayers and energy consumers has been considerable: over the past eight years the total renewables surcharge has been €165bn. The regime also released a flood of private investment: over the past decade, investors have poured more than $250bn into the German renewables sector, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The bulk of private investment has come from funds, co-operatives and individual owners of homes and land. The surge did not, however, achieve a serious cut in emissions: according to data from the Federal Environment Agency, Europe’s largest economy blasted out 905m tonnes of greenhouse gases last year, a level almost unchanged from that eight years ago. Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 28 per cent, but the bulk of that reduction came courtesy of the co llapse of East German industry after reunification. Aside from the continuing challenge posed by lignite, experts point in particular to the transport and industrial sectors as key laggards. Among environmental activists, admiration for Berlin’s leadership role in climate diplomacy and renewable energies has given way to a more sober assessment. At last year’s UN climate change conference in Bonn, more than 25 countries and regions around the world pledged to phase out coal by 2030. Germany’s absence from the list was branded “embarrassing” by the World Wide Fund for Nature, one of several groups to take aim at Berlin’s stance. The next blow came a few months later, when Angela Merkel’s new coalition government scrapped the country’s medium-term climate goals. Germany had committed itself to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, with 1990 serving as the benchmark. Scientists and activists had long warned that the 40 per cent goal was moving out of reach without drastic government action. But it soon became clear that such drastic action – for example, a speedier shutdown of heavily polluting power plants – would have required a degree of political will that none of the partners in Ms Merkel’s government could muster.
FT 9th Oct 2018 read more »