Can Germany Do the Energy Transition Alone?

The impact of energy policies does not stop at borders–Chernobyl drove that point home. And Germany is by no means trailblazing on its own while everyone else watches idly from the sidelines.

The German energy system is embedded in an Europe-wide internal market and EU power grid that are regulated by Brussels. This facilitates the great German energy transformation, since the grid connections between EU neighbors function as mutual insurance to all of the countries that participate in it. At any point in time, Germany can import power from across its borders or export to a neighbor. Thus regional supply and demand are balanced between countries with different needs and supplies at different times.

Germany’s energy transition is happening in an EU context with plenty of input from Brussels. While Germany is out front on many issues, it has been pushed by the EU on others, most notably energy efficiency. The EU has set the ambitious goal of achieving a 20 percent share of renewable energy and a 10 percent share of renewable power in transport by 2020. The EU’s Energy Roadmap 2050 sets national targets for all of its 27 members in carbon reductions, energy saving, electric mobility, and energy supply. Its priority is the creation of a truly pan-European energy market and power grid encompassing all 27 members (and European non-members), not just a select few as it stands today.

The EU’s pride is (at least it was supposed to be) its emissions trading system (ETS), the cornerstone of its policy to combat climate change and its key tool for cost-effectively reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions. The ETS ensures that climate protection targets are safeguarded and that the road to coal is effectively blocked by “capping,” or limiting, carbon emissions. It is the first and biggest international scheme for the trading of greenhouse gas emission allowances, covering some 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 30 countries (even if it’s not working very well at the moment–more on that in a future post).

Moreover, there are other clean energy pioneers in Europe: Denmark, Spain, Iceland, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Austria. Denmark, which already generates 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, is the continent’s pioneer in energy saving legislation. The Norwegian capital of Oslo is way out in front on electric mobility, the city outfitted with e-vehicle infrastructure and unique incentives for urban driving. Iceland’s energy mix is 98 percent renewable, due to its natural geothermal and hydro resources.

The pan-European nature of the energy transition is important for a number of reasons, but at a time when German politicians are questioning whether Germany is on the right path, it’s worth underscoring that the Energiewende is not an uniquely German issue.

Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based journalist and author of Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic.

Lead image: German town via Shutterstock

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Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based author who has written about Europe since 1989. Paul is the author of three major books on European politics: Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkans Wars, and Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Postwar Germany. From 1997-99 he worked with the international mission in Bosnia and 2003-04 in Kosovo. Since then, Paul has held fellowships with the American Academy in Berlin, the European Journalism College in Berlin, and the German Marshall Fund. He was an editor at Internationale Politik, Germany’s leading foreign affairs journal, for five years. He is currently author of the blog Going Renewable and is writing a book about Germany’s energy revolution.

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