2023 will be a critical year for Germany’s progress towards achieving its ambitious goal of having 80% of its electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030. This goal has been supported by recent legislative changes, land allocation, and more generous subsidy schemes.
Once a pioneering force in green technology, Germany experienced a slowdown in the mid-2010s, leading to a decline in the appeal of its Energiewende program. However, the new government, elected in 2021, has promised to revitalize the program.
The government coalition has set a target of 600 terawatt hours of renewable electricity consumption by 2030, equivalent to 80% of the country’s total electricity consumption. To achieve this, new laws were rapidly drafted throughout 2022.
German bureaucrats have been struggling with burnout and anxiety, while an energy crisis looms large. To address these challenges, government-funded research agencies have been called upon to assist. The new regulations will come into effect in January 2023, which will be a crucial year for demonstrating whether sufficient changes can be made.
The head of the renewable energy lobby association BEE, Simone Peter, emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating that the trend in 2023 must show a significant increase in wind turbine installation rates, from one per day to up to six per day. To achieve the desired level of renewable energy production, the government has set a target of 115 GW of installed onshore wind capacity, 30 GW of offshore wind capacity, and 215 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity by 2030.
Germany had installed 57 GW of onshore wind capacity and 63.4 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity as of September 2022, according to a monitoring report released on December 27. Meanwhile, offshore wind capacity stood at 8 GW.
The disparity between the current installed capacity and the government’s ambitious targets is significant. The country has only eight years left to more than double onshore wind capacity, triple solar capacity, and quadruple offshore wind capacity. The government is focusing on revamping the renewable energy law (EEG) and introducing new laws for onshore and offshore wind, which are being described as the most significant reforms in decades. These reforms prioritize renewable energy development as being in the “overriding public interest,” which will limit legal challenges against their expansion.
Permitting, often identified as a significant bottleneck, is expected to speed up with the new regulations. Citizen’s projects with a maximum capacity of 18 MW and solar projects of up to 6 MW will be allowed, with upfront funding support of up to €200,000 available to aid their development. These projects will also be exempt from most administrative restrictions.
To reflect the increased production costs of wind turbines and encourage participation in government renewables tenders, the government-subsidized price offered for onshore wind power will increase by 25% from January 1st.
Sven Giegold, a senior public official and state secretary at the Germany Ministry of Economy and Climate Action, highlighted the government’s plans to triple the expansion of renewable energy sources on land, water, and roofs. Despite this optimism, internal documents suggest that the current momentum of new construction is insufficient to reach the target path. The monitoring report from December 27th urges for more action, with Simone Peter of BEE stating that 2023 must be the year of implementation.
Although everything appears to be in place for Germany to transition to a green electricity system by 2035, experts suggest that the pace of renewables expansion is significantly inadequate as the country enters a crucial year.
According to a report from December, the speed of solar photovoltaic build-out needs to triple, based on the trend of the past year. The expansion of onshore wind power lags behind photovoltaics, with the pace needing to be almost quadrupled. Expansion targets are set to increase annually, peaking in the second half of the decade. However, if Germany fails to meet its targets in the first and easiest year, its prospects could be gloomy.
Places of Interest to Monitor
Two regions will be closely watched going forward, as they play a crucial role in Germany’s renewable energy expansion.
Bavaria, once known for its strict rules against onshore wind, has emerged as a dominant force in solar power. In 2021, it added more than 1.5 GW of solar capacity, and by June 2022, it added an additional 1 GW. The government’s end-of-year report noted that new PV construction in 2021 was primarily in Bavaria, indicating the state’s increasing interest in renewable energy sources.
East Germany, particularly Saxony, Thuringia, and Saxony-Anhalt, is another critical region to monitor. These states have historically been slow to embrace renewables, and their affinity for the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has complicated matters. In Saxony, more wind turbines were dismantled than installed in 2021, resulting in a net negative capacity change. By June 2022, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia had expanded their renewable capacity by 200 MW of solar, while Bavaria had constructed 1,000 MW of solar capacity in the same period.
Overcoming the resistance to renewables in these regions will be a significant challenge for Berlin, with Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck making trips to all three states to promote renewable energy expansion. However, during his visit to Saxony, he was met with a choir of citizens protesting EU sanctions on Russian gas.
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