Science in Society Archive

Germany 100 Percent Renewables by 2050

Sets an example for all industrial nations Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Peter Saunders

The UK’s Low Carbon Transition Plan [1] (see UK’s Lacklustre Low Carbon Transition Plan, SiS 44) falls well short of the challenges that face us. Fortunately, we need look no further than across the North Sea to Germany for inspiration. Germany is a large, prosperous, industrialised country rather like the UK in many ways. It has traditionally relied heavily on coal for electricity generation, and has a number of nuclear power plants. But there the similarities end.

Renewable energies exclude nuclear

While the UK’s White Paper envisages the Great Britain of 2020 or 2050 as much the same as today, Germany is looking forward to a quite different future in which Germany will guarantee for itself a secure energy supply and maintain its position as a world leader in new technology.  It is forging ahead in the development and use of renewable energy; and nuclear power - seen in the UK as a major component of the future energy mix - is being phased out altogether.

The nearest equivalent in Germany to the British White Paper is a document issued by the German government in January 2009, with the title New Thinking – New Energy. Ten Guiding Principles for a Sustainable Energy Supply [2].

The document sets out the following objectives:

· By 2020, greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 40 per cent from their 1990 levels – double the UK target. (By the end of 2007 emissions had already been reduced by 21.3 per cent.)

· Energy productivity should be increased by 3 per cent every year, so that in 2020 energy will be used twice as efficiently as in 1990

· The proportion of energy that comes from renewables should be increased. By 2050, half of primary energy consumption should come from renewable sources. By 2020, the proportions of final energy consumption, gross electricity consumption and energy used for heating that come from renewables should be double their current levels (which are 9 per cent, 15 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively).

· By 2020, a quarter of energy production should come from combined heat and power generation (CHP), again double the present level.

· The use of biofuels should be increased so that by 2020, 7 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions due to fossil fuels are eliminated.

100 percent renewables by 2050

But speaking to the press [3] David Wortmann, Director of Renewable Energy and Resources at Germany Trade and Invest, a government body supporting the country’s renewable energy sector, expressed the view that Germany could be 100 percent renewables-powered by 2050. 'It's ambitious, but Germany can be running on renewable energy by 2050 if there is the political will,' he said.

In 2008, Germany’s primary energy consumed was 7.3 percent renewable, and that figure is predicted to increase to 33 percent by 2020. At that rate of increase, it could well be 100 percent renewable by 2050.

Part of what makes that possible is to use less energy by increasing energy efficiency. The Roadmap lays out a raft of new energy efficiency measures including the construction of a smart grid that should reduce consumption by 28 percent in the next two decades: from 13 842 PJ in 2007 to 12 000 PJ in 2020 and 10 000 PJ in 2030. This will mean enormous savings on costly energy imports.

Another strategy is to make full use of German’s natural wind resources concentrated along the northern coastlines, where huge offshore wind parks in the North Sea could generate as much as 10 GW or more (see later), feeding electricity into a smart national grid connecting the north and east of the country and south and west with optimal efficiency using high voltage direct current.

Solar energy will be imported via Italy from the solar thermal plants to be built in the sun soaked deserts of North Africa (but see Chapter 12 of [4] Green Energies - 100% Renewable by 2050, I-SIS publication).

Electric powered cars rechargeable from renewable energy sources will be racing down Germany’s Autobahns and cut greenhouse emissions substantially.

“The technical capacity is available for the country to switch over to green energy, so it is a question of political will and the right regulatory framework,” Wortman said. Germany plans to use all the renewable energy sources at its disposal, wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biomass in an optimum mix.

Wortman praised the government for its plans to invest more into research. “Germany has been a centre of innovation in renewable energy technologies for years. There is a real desire to see it continue to be a place where new central renewable energy technologies are development. Not only the government, but also companies are focussing more resources on research.” Wortman said.

He predicted that bio-energy will play a key role, but only where it is sustainable and did not compete with food crops or supplies. In 2008, biomass supplied 3.7 percent of the electricity in Germany, up from 3.1 percent in 2007; while wind power’s share increased by 0.1 percent from 6.4 to 6.5 percent.

He singled out a biogas electricity plant developed by Dr. Michael Stelter of the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems in Dresden that use compost and waste.  A new procedure that uses enzymes to break down cellulose in compost waste means that the plant produces 30 percent more biogas and does this in 30 days, rather than the current 80 days.

To optimize efficiency, the biogas is pumped into fuel cells that operate at 850 ˚C, allowing the plant to convert biogas methane to electricity at 40 to 55 percent efficiency. Taking into account the heat produced, the fuel cell has a conversion rate of 85 percent.

Strong government support for renewables

Germany has stolen a march on other member states of the European Union and most of the rest of the world in launching its low carbon transition in earnest more than a decade ago. Germany’s renewable energy policy really began in 1974 after the first oil crisis, and consisted almost exclusively in promoting research for the first 15 years [5]. Market creation measures only came after 1988; of these the most important was the Feed-in Law.  From 1991 to 1995, under the 1 000 roof programme, applicants received 50 percent of investment costs from the federal government plus 20 percent from the Land government. Eventually 2 250 roofs were equipped with photovoltaic (PV) modules, producing a total of about 5 MW.

For wind energy, the government introduced a programme for subsidising 100 MW – later 250 MW – by a payment of €0.04/kWh (later reduced to €0.03). This was accompanied by the Feed-in Law that obliges national electricity utilities to buy electricity generated from renewable sources at above-market rates set by the government. As a result, newly installed wind capacity shot up from about 20 MW in 1989 to over 1 100 MW in 1995. In subsequent years, these subsidies declined rapidly, and the Feed-in Law barely survived attacks from the conventional electricity generators.

Significant improvement came after the 1998 election, when the ‘red-green’ coalition came into office, and strengthened renewable energy support, especially for PV and biomass, thanks also to activists and municipal utilities. Eurosolar’s 100 000 roof proposal since 1996 and the German Solar Energy Industries Association, played key roles in the continued growth of the PV market after the 1 000 roof programme.

The new federal government emphasized ecological modernisation and climate change policy as well as job creation and socio-economic development. It included eco-tax on energy, phasing out nuclear power and strengthening renewable energy sources and combined heat and power generation for increased efficiency of energy use.

The government’s measures to promote renewable energy included a five-year market incentive programme that provided about € 445 million from 1999 to 2002; a tax break on bio-fuels in keeping with a EU directive; and most importantly, it adopted the 100,000 roof programme for PV, and the Renewable Energy Sources Act adopted in 2000 and substantially amended in 2004.  This new Law repealed the Feed-in Law of 1990 but maintained an essential feature, i.e., the reliance on feed-in tariffs to encourage the development of renewable energy sources for electricity. This has given German PV and other renewable technologies a further boost. In 2006, Germany accounted for 56 per cent of the world’s solar energy technology market and around 80 per cent of the European market [6].

Germany already generates 6.5 per cent of electricity from wind [4] and is planning to increase this amount. In September 2009, the cabinet announced plans for up to 40 offshore wind parks holding as many as 2 500 turbines and projected to generate 12 GW by 2030 [7]

There are also plans for other sources including biogas, small hydroelectric plants and geothermal.  In July 2009, a large group of German companies announced a joint investment of €400 billion ($560 billion) in concentrated solar power (CSP) plants in the Sahara Desert. These are seen as making significant contributions to the total energy supply but are also important because the energy supply is predictable or storable and can provide a buffer against fluctuations in other sources (but see Chapter 12 of [2] for strong reservations on big CSP projects).

No nuclear or carbon capture and storage

Unlike the UK government, the Germans are confident that they can achieve their aims without nuclear power. In 2002 they decided to phase out their nuclear plants by 2022, and while the present Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is known to favour extending the stations’ lifetimes beyond that date, there is little support for building any new reactors. Public opinion in Germany is against nuclear energy especially after the July 2009 incident in which the Krümmel nuclear reactor had to be shut down for the second time in two years and the revelation of problems at the Gorleben site, which is intended for long term storage of nuclear waste [8].

Germany has traditionally relied very heavily on coal and so like the UK, is actively pursuing research into CCS. Vattenfall, a Swedish-German firm, has applied for EU funding to help it build a 385 MW demonstration plant [9]. Germany is not, however, depending on CCS to help it achieve its emissions targets in the same way that the UK is. In particular, it is not included in their plan for reaching their 2020 target because they do expect it to be commercially available by then. Instead, while they will still be generating 40 per cent of their electricity from coal, the emissions will be reduced by increasing the efficiency of the plants, by having more combined heat and power CHP installations, and by an 11 per cent reduction in total energy consumption.  If CCS proves successful, they will be well placed to take advantage of it; if it does not, they have other strings to their bow.

Germany, in sharp contrast to the UK, is looking forward to a future in which more and more, if not all of its energy comes from renewable sources. It clearly sees this as an opportunity: the creation of 500 000 new jobs and establishing Germany as a major exporter of renewable technologies; and substantially reducing energy imports

Transport and airline tax

Like the UK, Germany is looking at specific measures to reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector, such as improving the efficiency of vehicles and moving traffic from road to rail and from private cars to public transport. But the Germans start with the advantage of a superior rail network. Unlike their British counterparts, the German Federal Department for the Environment is advocating that airlines pay tax on aviation fuel and VAT on tickets for international flights, thus removing a major subsidy to the industry [10].

No carbon trading

While the UK White Paper assumes that carbon trading will make an important contribution to meeting the country’s emissions target, the UBA explicitly states that Germany aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by measures implemented within Germany itself.

Article first published 14/10/09


  1. Saunders PT and Cherry B. UK’s lackluster low carbon transition plan. Science in Society 44.
  2. Ho MW, Cherry B, Burcher S and Saunders PT. Green Energies, 100 % Renewables by 2050, ISIS/TWN Report, London and Penang, 2010,
  3. New Thinking - New Energy, Zehn Leitsätze für eine nachhaltige Energieversorgung Ten Principles for a Sustainable Energy, Federal Minstry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, January 2009,
  4. “Germany: the world’s first major renewable energy economy”, Jane Burgermeister, 3 April 2009, Renewable Energy,
  5. Lauber V  and Mez L. Three decades of renewable electricity policies in Germany. Energy & Environment 2004, 15, 599-623.
  6. “German legislation generates photovoltaic leadership”, Sian Harris, SPIE, 19 October 2007,
  7. “Alternative energy at sea. German cabinet approves massive expansion of offshore wind farm”, Spiegel Online, 18 September 2009,,1518,649219,00.html
  8. “Krümmel accident puts question mark over Germany’s nuclear future”, Spiegel Online, 13 July 2009,,1518,635788,00.html
  9. “Vattenfall hopeful on German CCS project”, Reuters, 8 September 2009, World Business Council for Sustainable Development,
  10. Wachsmann U, Erdmenger C, Müschen K, and Lehmann H. 40% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2020 – Germany’s path towards a sustainable energy system, 2009,

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Jeffrey Michel Comment left 15th October 2009 02:02:18
"If CCS proves successful" then the goal of 100% This report obscures the ongoing strategic countermeasures of the fossil fuel industry, which is industrially better organized and has stronger union support. To date, I know of no election in any of Germany's states that has been won by the promotion of renewables, whereas four of those 16 governments have reaffirmed their unbending support for domestic lignite generation. This article thus remains misleading, at best. See my recent analysis at:

Donald Leenknegt Comment left 15th October 2009 22:10:34
Read the report of E.On Netz, probably the largest wind power generator in the world. You can find it via the following article and comments: It states that you need almost 100% conventional power station backup for installed wind power. The relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4%. In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), only 2,000 MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms. An example: Whilst wind power feed-in at 9.15am on Christmas Eve reached its maximum for the year at 6,024MW, it fell to below 2,000MW within only 10 hours, a difference of over 4,000MW. This corresponds to the capacity of 8 x 500MW coal fired power station blocks. On Boxing Day, wind power feed-in in the E.ON grid fell to below 40MW. And some short citations from Michael J. Trebilcock's article (Professor of Law and Economics, University of Toronto) learn that facts and dreams are not always the same: ...There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world’s most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power’s unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone)... ...Flemming Nissen ... tells us that “wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that “Germany’s CO2 emissions haven’t been reduced by even a single gram,” and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery... ...Industrial wind power is not a viable economic alternative to other energy conservation options. The Danish electricity generation costs are the highest in Europe (15¢/kwh compared to Ontario’s current rate of about 6¢). Niels Gram of the Danish Federation of Industries says, “windmills are a mistake and economically make no sense.” ... A closer and honest inspection of other renewables learn also that the story is not always what it seams... Why does the gas of life scares us so much????

ed heft Comment left 15th October 2009 22:10:52
All of this sounds just rosy, but, in the real world of ego's and greed, will the ruling PTB allow such a needed technology improvement. What will be their cut??? I've watched the so-called UNIONS, for almost 70 years now, combine with Political/financial power to disrupt most of what would be considered 'betterment for the citizen' I'll be watching, ed

Santhanam R. Comment left 15th October 2009 22:10:44
Usually politicians emit emit more hot air GHG than doing something constructive towards becoming 100% green.What happened to the Green political party of Germany? Perhaps they found that when it comes to power, or the sharing of it, green is not the answer! There is some liberal thinking in the modern German state. Wily Brandt for example. India has stated categorically that U.K's Stern committee report findings are not acceptable. There is now little room for negotiations and scoring brownie points as time is running out for all. Which of the developing mice will bell which of the many well developed fat cats?

Warren Brodey M.D. Comment left 15th October 2009 22:10:28
This is very good news.I would like SIS to forward a version of this news to Norways most read newspaper Aftenposten Norway takes pride in using its oil income for reducing co2 contamination of the air.The politicians need something to compare their contribution to slowing the results of our unsustainable ecology ie reduction of living coherence to a fragmentation level which cannot support life process (as we know it)

Todd Millions Comment left 24th October 2009 05:05:15
These studies and plans though laudable and doable-Are all copies of the world game strategies outlined in the book -'Energy Earth and Everyone'(ed-Menard Gabel).They are most clearly developed in the later editions and have a 10 year global plan for conversion to renewables,based on 1970's efficency improvements. This is because all world game strategies HAD to be based on existing hardware and techuniques. So-what did they miss?Unbroken political whoreing to the oil mafia,and military complexes. I would urge comparision to these updated plans to this original-as it is oft copied but never equalled.

Donald Leenknegt Comment left 22nd October 2009 16:04:57
On you can find the just published final report with the title: "Economic impacts from the promotion of renewable energies: The German experience". Read it and you will know what the real problems are with renewables... It is not so rosy as it seems at first sight

Rory Short Comment left 21st October 2009 02:02:44
Factual criticisms of problems with different renewable energy technologies are to be welcomed as necessary steps on the road to a sustainable future. Criticisms launched with the intention of crippling work on renewable energy technologies serve nothing but the financial interests of those who have extremely limited time horizons. Anyone who is at all aware knows that humankind, if it is to have a future on this planet, has no option other than to strive to switch its energy needs to renewable energy technologies as fast as it can.

Mike Hohmann Comment left 19th July 2010 01:01:42
Received from Burt Rutan: > The Climate Scientist referred to is Professor Robert M Carter whose latest book CLIMATE: THE COUNTER CONSENSUS has just been published by Stacey International, London. As Burt says about his presentation: read the evidence and make up your own mind. Can't ask for more. My own musings go in the direction that the IPCC circus might soon become known as the biggest political and intellectual swindle of all times, in spite of the continuing Gleichschaltung of which Dr Goebbels could only be turning green -- with envy. Mike, your CleanEnergyPundit