The German Energiewende (energy transition) – once an international model – threatens to disintegrate. Now is the time to develop a common European energy strategy, experts say. EURACTIV Germany reports.
“Germany would be well-advised to start looking beyond the edge of its nose on energy policy”, warned Bert Rürup, former “economic wise man” and director of the Handelsblatt Research Institute.
Rürup’s statement came during the presentation of the most comprehensive international comparative study on energy policy that has been conducted up till now. Conducted by the Handelsblatt Research Institute on behalf of General Electric, the study reveals a surprising result: Germany is losing its leading international role in energy policy and the prestigious Energiewende project threatens to fall to pieces.
In the Federal Republic, the energy issue is being debated from purely national viewpoints and is dominated by the feeling that all other countries could learn from the Germans, Rürup explained.
In fact Germany was envied and admired for a long time for its Energiewende, indicated Stephan Reimelt, president and managing director of GE Energy Deutschland. But those times are over now; admiration from abroad has turned to “ridicule”, said Reimelt, and “that is dramatic”.
Who outranked Germany?
The Handelsblatt Research Institute monitored 24 industrialised and newly industrialising countries over a span of 5 years, looking at 51 different indicators. In the end, the researchers condensed the data into two overall rankings: mapping the status quo, and tracing the trend of the past 5 years.
Good news first: Germany’s current ranking is a respectable 8. Only smaller states with “good topographies” had better results, explained Rürup during the presentation of the study. Sweden holds first place, followed by Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark. But even France – due to its high share of nuclear power – and Spain outranked Germany.
But for Germany, the results of the second category are even worse. Here, in the “dynamic ranking”, which reflects the developing trend during the examination period, Germany came in last place.
The reason for this, according to the study, are rising CO2 emissions and high per capita energy consumption. Energy prices have also risen significantly in recent years; nowhere, do households spend more on their energy bills than in Germany.
Pillars of the Energiewende are wobbling
This is precisely where the problem lies, Rürup pointed out.
The Energiewende, he explained, is built on three supporting pillars – he casually referred to these as the “magical triangle”: environmental compatibility, efficiency and security of supply. All of them are wobbling at the moment, Reimelt said. He continued by explaining that while CO2 emissions have increased in Germany over the last few years, the number of failures in the power grid has gone up dramatically. Meanwhile, displeasure is rising over growing energy costs among consumers and businesses, Riemelt indicated.
For this reason, Rürup is calling on Germany to “abandon its navel-gazing” and finally think beyond its own borders. In Norway, for example, the energy efficient passive house standard will be applied to all new buildings starting in 2015, Rürup pointed out. And Canada, he said, is a role model in transporting goods by rail.
Germany is also not following the general trend toward energy decentralisation, president and managing director Reimelt said. That is why he is pushing for integrating the German energy grid into the European one.
Rürup is also campaigning for a “common European energy strategy”.
“One cannot aim towards a united Europe on the one hand and on the other hand be limited to thinking on national terms in energy,” he said. Instead Europe needs a division of labour, said Rürup.
Renewables must be generated where they can be most efficiently and competitively produced, according to the research institute’s director said. Suitable locations for solar power systems are in the Mediterranean, while wind farms should be placed in the North Sea and on the Atlantic coast – “not in the middle of Germany”, Rürup criticised.
Finally, the current conflict with Russia could serve as a catalyst for a European energy strategy, Rürup said in closing, in light of growing pressure to escape from Russian oil and gas.
In May 2013, the powerful employers’ group BusinessEurope called on European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to radically shift the EU's energy policy away from climate change mitigation towards cost-competitiveness and security of supply.
But a EU summit dedicated on energy with the objective of lowering prices and boosting the Union’s industrial competitiveness, held on 22 May, ended up without major decisions. [more]
EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger unveiled last November a document on state intervention in power production that warns EU energy prices will continue to rise unless governments take steps to reduce green subsidies.
As most renewable energies are still more expensive than fossil fuels, a variety of support schemes have been put in place to accelerate their uptake and meet the EU's goal of sourcing 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
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