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3 Reasons Germans are Going Renewable ‘At All Costs’

3 Reasons Germans are Going Renewable ‘At All Costs’ thumbnail

Germany is racing past 20 percent renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing “billions.” But often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country’s relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).

How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?

1. It’s about the cost, not the price

Most news stories focus on the cost of electricity in Germany, which has some of the highest rates per kilowatt-hour in the world.  But they don’t note that the average German electricity bill – about $100 a month – is the same as for most Americans.  Germans are much more efficient users of energy than most, so they can afford higher rates without having higher bills.  (Note to self: check out options for energy efficiency).

2. It’s about vision

Germany doesn’t just have an incremental approach to renewable energy, but a commitment supported by 84 percent of residents to get to 100% renewable energy “as quickly as possible.”  A few U.S. states have renewable energy visions (e.g. 33% by 2020, 25% by 2025) that approach Germany’s, but they’re mired in the notion that despite enormous savings to society in terms of health and environmental benefits, renewable energy shouldn’t cost any more today than conventional, dirty energy on the utility bill.  Germans have taken the long view (about energy security, price volatility, etc).

3. It’s about ownership 

I lied in #1.  Support for Germany’s renewable energy quest isn’t about cost of energy, but about the opportunity to own a slice of the energy system.  Millions of Germans are building their retirement nest egg by individually or collectively owning a share of wind and solar power plants supplying clean energy to their communities. Nearly half of the country’s 63,000 megawatts of wind and solar power is owned locally, and these energy owners care as much about the persistence of renewable energy they own as they do about the energy bill they pay. Not only do these German energy owners reduce their own net cost of energy, every dollar diverted from a distant multinational utility company multiplies throughout their local economy.

Ownership of Germany's Renewable Energy Capacity
John Farrell, ILSR

Not only does local ownership flip the notion of energy costs as consumers become producers, it also flips the notion of political ownership. Three-quarters of Germans want to maintain a focus on “citizen-managed, decentralized renewable energy.”

The tunnel vision on cost so prevalent in the press reflects the perspective of incumbent utilities, whose market share declines as their former customers produce their own power. It’s a story that plays out in the U.S., when debates over new power plants focus narrowly on the cost per kilowatt-hour rather than how an individual or community can retain more of their energy dollar.

It may seem that Germany is going renewable “at all costs,” but only if we are resigned to being energy consumers.  Because their and our energy transition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take charge of our energy future.  That’s priceless.

Renewable energy world

10 Comments on "3 Reasons Germans are Going Renewable ‘At All Costs’"

  1. Arthur on Sun, 27th Oct 2013 8:51 pm 

    “a commitment supported by 84 percent of residents to get to 100% renewable energy “as quickly as possible.”

    Germany understands the problem on a collective level, not just on the elite level. That’s why they will be among the first to achieve the energy transition, regardless of the cost.

    Britain was the first to exploit coal and the 19th century was theirs.
    The US was the first to exploit oil and the 20th century was theirs.
    Germany will be the first to exploit renewables and the 21st century will be theirs (embedded in Greater Europe).

  2. alokin on Sun, 27th Oct 2013 10:21 pm 

    No. Germany has no coal no oil no gas. What else should they do? And they are pretty good in technology so that means more exports.

  3. kiwichick on Sun, 27th Oct 2013 11:39 pm 


    new zealand @ approx 70 % renewable electricity

    iceland @ 100% ?

  4. Kenz300 on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 12:08 am 

    The transition to renewables keeps growing every year.

    The price of wind and solar are now very competitive with oil, coal and nuclear especially if you add in the cost of the environmental damage or the Fukishima clean up.

    As the price of wind and solar continue to fall the momentum will pick up………..

    Wind, solar, wave energy,geothermal and second generation biofuels made from algae, cellulose and waste are the future.

  5. rollin on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 2:06 am 

    Germany wants to be in a position of leadership in the future. They realize how long it can take to make a transition on that scale and want time to figure out the problems that they are bound to face. They are not waiting for magic or hope to save them, but are dealing realistically with a major energy problem.

  6. BillT on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 2:14 am 

    Problem is…they need backup for all of those ‘renewables’ and currently that means France’ nukes. As long as they are connected to any power source outside their borders, they are not 100% anything. Germany could not exist if energy and resources could not be imported. Put a ‘wall’ around any European country and it would not last a year.

    More techie dreams hyped by politicians trying to keep the disaster called the West going. Especially the EU.

  7. dashster on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 11:01 am 

    “new zealand @ approx 70 % renewable electricity

    iceland @ 100% ?”

    But not from solar or wind. Germany doesn’t have the ability to use geothermal and hydroelectric to get to 100% renewable.

  8. dashster on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 11:03 am 

    You can’t get to 100% in renewables without having electricity storage for large amounts of electricity for when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. IF that can be done – and I am not aware of any large scale electricity storage or energy storage – it will greatly raise the cost of wind/solar versus conventional as Gail Tverberg recently pointed out.

    However, there doesn’t have to be an economic case made for wind/solar other than the fact that fossil fuels are finite and depleting, and predicted by the Energy Watch Group to peak in production in about 10 years or less.

  9. simonr on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 1:54 pm 

    I believe Norway has tentatively offered to be europes Green battery, using hydro power, so all excess renewable power could be used to pump water to dams, then released when needed. I can foresee problems, but it is an interesting idea.

  10. Arthur on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 8:06 pm 

    simonr, here a professor explaining the Norwegian hydro storage project in a 20 min talk:

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