New German coalition aims for 80% renewable power by 2030, more gas as back-up

The next German government will enact major changes in the country's energy mix, focussing on fossil gas and solar energy. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN

The new German coalition on Wednesday (24 November) announced big plans to accelerate the energy transition, aiming to “ideally” exit coal by 2030, quadruple solar PV installations on all rooftops and push renewable energy capacity to 80% of the country’s electricity mix by 2030.

Something they kept quiet about though is how much that transition will rely on gas, with a planned 50% increase in gas power generation to replace the coal and nuclear plants that are being phased out.

On Wednesday, the German Greens entered a so-called “traffic light” coalition alongside the social democrat SPD and the business-friendly liberal FDP.

“Germany is now the first major industrialised country on the way to a truly renewable energy system,” said Green EU lawmaker Sven Giegold, who was among the negotiators in the coalition talks.

The parties’ coalition agreement enshrines a 80% renewable electricity and 50% renewable heating target for 2030, while keeping the country’s planned nuclear exit on track and “ideally” phasing out coal by 2030.

These targets amount to a massive challenge for Germany, which has struggled to expand renewable energy in the past.

“80% renewables at an electricity demand of 750 TWh 2030 corresponds to 600 TWh renewables and the sum total of gross electricity production in 2019,” tweeted analyst Frank Peter of think-tank Agora Energiewende.

To achieve this target, the incoming minister of energy, economy and climate Robert Habeck aims to reserve 2% of land for onshore wind power, more than triple offshore wind capacity (to 30GW) and quadruple solar PV installations (to 200 GW).

“All suitable roof areas are to be used for solar energy in the future,” the parties said in their coalition agreement. While new commercial buildings would be obliged to install solar PV, it should become commonplace for newly built private buildings, it says.

The current renewable energy capacity in Germany is 53 GW for solar, 7.7 GW for offshore wind and 54 GW for onshore wind. 

While the delivery of all that renewable energy relies on the grid, the country’s electricity grid is in dire need of expansion and modernisation. 

“Not only renewables expansion needs to switch on its turbo boost, also the expansion and optimisation of the grid has to happen much faster,” said grid operator Tennet.

The coalition agreement reads that “electricity and hydrogen grids are the backbone of the energy system of the future” and asks the federal energy network agency to develop a new plan for a “climate neutral network.”

New German government aims for at least 15 mln EVs by 2030

Germany aims to have at least 15 million electric cars on the roads by 2030 in its shift towards climate neutrality, up from a previous goal of 14 million, according to the coalition agreement of the incoming government published on Wednesday (24 November).

The gas problem

But Germany’s transition to a predominantly renewables-based energy system is not without its contradictions.

The best-case scenario of a 2030 coal exit, “demands the massive expansion of renewable energies and the construction of modern gas-fired power plants,” reads the coalition agreement.

In concrete terms, Germany will have to increase fossil gas power capacity by about one-third or more, up from 90 TWh in 2020 to about 120 to 150 TWh in 2030, according to electricity consumption forecasts.

These new plants will have to be built with carbon neutral gases in mind, the coalition agreement speaks of them being “hydrogen-ready.” 

Gas power plants “are the prerequisite for us to be able to cope with this period of change,” Germany’s future Chancellor Olaf Scholz told attendees of a congress of the influential mining, chemicals and energy trade union IG BCE on 27 October.

Future German Chancellor committed to gas, Greens fall in line

As the European Commission is expected to present the rules for sustainable finance via the EU taxonomy this year, the largest EU state and its future chancellor is more committed to gas than ever.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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