1 May 2015
Article by Karen Whitfield, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
In April 2015, the Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee visited the German state of Baden-Wurrtemberg to find out how towns, cities and small communities are taking action to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency. In Germany, this is called the Energiewende (energy transition).
What is the goal of the Energiewende?
Germany has set itself some tough targets:
- 35% of electricity consumed to be generated by renewables by 2020;
- 18% of total energy (including heating and transport) to be provided by renewables by 2020;
- a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050;
- primary energy consumption to reduce by 20% from 2008 levels by 2020 and by 50% by 2050;
- use of electricity to decline to 10% below 2008 levels by 2020 and to 25% below 2008 levels by 2050; and
- phase out nuclear power plants by 2022.
How will this be achieved?
Germany has passed a number of key pieces of legislation to drive the increase in renewable energy generation:
- 2000 – the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) introduced new feed-in tariff rates linked to the cost of the investment, rather than the retail rate, and ensured that renewable energy generators were given priority connections to the grid.
- 2002 – the Heat-Power Cogeneration Act was adopted to support the use of combined heat and power (CHP) systems.
- 2009 – the Renewable Energy Sources Act for Heat was passed, which set requirements for installation of renewable heating systems into housing.
- 2009 – the Eco-design of Energy-using Products Act was passed, which implements the European eco-design directive in German law.
- 2009 – the Power Grid Expansion Act (known as EnLAG) identified 24 priority grid expansion projects for which ‘national need’ was established. Previously, debates about whether new transmission lines were really necessary had slowed grid expansion.
- 2011 – the Act on Accelerating Grid Expansion (known as NABEG) was passed, giving the German Network Agency, known as BnetzA, some of the grid selection and approval powers that were previously held by the German states. Under this Act, new high-voltage lines are to be built (as a rule) underground to increase public acceptance.
These measures appear to be having a positive impact, particularly on renewable electricity generation. In 2013 Germany generated 23.4% of its electricity from renewables. Another feature of the German Energiewende is that it has significant community support and participation. In 2012 47% of electricity generated from renewables was community-owned. In comparison, Wales generated 10.1% of electricity from renewables in 2013, the majority of which is owned by large commercial companies.
What did the Committee discover?
During their visit the Committee met state level and local government officials, academics, an ethical investment bank and local communities and farmers who were generating their own electricity and heat from renewable sources. They visited Vauban, a regenerated district of the city of Freiburg, previously a French barracks. This district boasts a large number of energy efficient buildings, with all buildings achieving at least the Low-energy Construction Standard of 65kWh of heating energy required per square metre. Around 240 residences also meet the Passivhaus standard, requiring only 15kWh of heating energy per square metre. Some buildings in Vauban even achieve energy-plus status – generating more energy than is required for heating. This area of the city also had low car ownership, with the majority of transport needs provided by the local tram system and cycle lanes.
In Germany, communities are not only generating their own renewable power, but some own and manage their own local electricity and heating grids. The Committee visited EWS Shönau, a community-owned electricity grid that is expanding its influence and support to other communities in Germany that want to do the same. The managers of this community enterprise believe that ownership of the grid has allowed the community greater control to make energy efficiency improvements and allowed local people to determine what types of technology supply their electricity. They boast that by 2010 local electricity was supplied by 99.6% renewables.
Is this level of commitment found across Germany, and can Wales do the same?
The Committee’s visit revealed a high degree of political consensus on Germany’s renewables policy. Politicians from all the major parties agreed on the Germany’s Energiewende targets and the decision to phase out nuclear power. The debate in Germany appears not to centre around whether these targets can be met, or if they should be met, but how they should be met.
In the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport’s Energy Wales Statement on 15th April 2015, she stated the vision for Wales includes maximising ‘the benefit to Wales of the transition to low carbon generation’ and that this means ‘building upon existing progress to secure a step change in delivering interventions, actions and policies that secure an “Energy Smart Wales”.’
The Committee will now carry out an inquiry into the scope for and practicality of implementing some or all of the Energiewende approach in Wales.