Germany’s Energy Transition Overwhelmingly Popular, despite Deniers

June 20, 2016

Above, 8 second snip from a Fox News report showing typical anti-renewable energy propaganda.
I show this as comic relief in my presentations, and it’s always good for a laugh..
(full clip here if you’re interested)

A quick look Fox reporter  Shibani Joshi’s wikipedia entry shows that she is married to Joshi Rahul Advani, “a principal at Energy Capital Partners”, a firm that,  according to its website,focuses on investing in the power generation, midstream oil and gas, electric transmission, environmental infrastructure and energy services”.
Wow, who could have imagined that?

Since we haven’t been at war with Germany in 60 years, many Americans, especially Fox News viewers, don’t know where it is, so in my presentations,  I always put up a map to show that Germany is a small, cloudy, northern European country at about the same latitude as Labrador, Canada.


Since Germany bashing continues to be a staple for the anti-science brigade, here’s the latest update.

Energy Transition:

Some of the positive Energiewende reporting leaves the reader with the impression as if Germany was a lonely leader on a path to decarbonization of power production through the usage of distributed renewables. But of course, Germany is not going alone. The country has many ambitious allies around the globe like Denmark or California, which have even more ambitious goals than my home country of Germany.

However, the international Energiewende reporting makes me want to rub my eyes. If one is to believe those reports, industry is fleeing because energy costs are going through the roof. Since Germany’s supposed panic reaction to Fukushima and the shutdown of nuclear reactors in 2011, the country is allegedly increasingly dependent on power imports, and its grid is less stable than before. And those are just a few of the unfounded claims:


Fact-checking reveals that the above statements are myths. Readers of this blog know that the Energiewende is neither an irrational reaction to Fukushima, nor unique in its ambitions. Nonetheless, these myths keep circulating through the international press. How can this divergent discourse be explained?

Four different factors help explain this divergence between the German and international understanding of the Energiewende:




  • German politicians sometimes paint a bleak picture of Germany’s Energiewende in order to win over a specific audience or corner a constituency at home. German journalists can see through such tactics and distinguish fact from hyperbole, but it’s harder for foreign observers. An example? In April 2014, Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel gave a speech at a national solar summit at which he claimed that the “German Energiewende is close to becoming a failure”. His purpose was to tell an audience of solar representatives that he had no choice but to cut support for solar. Abroad, a number of blogs and news outlets saw the minister’s quote as an official admission that the strategy of Germany’s energy transition was fundamentally flawed and bound to fail. They subsequently covered the story with unequivocal titles such as ”the green energy orgy in Germany is over.” Tellingly – the German press did not understand Gabriel’s statement that way.
  • Few German media outlets cover energy politics in English comprehensively. Until recently, only a small part of the overall energy discourse in Germany reached the outside world in English at all. The result was selective reporting, as most English media outlets do not have their own reporters and fact-checkers on the ground to contextualize the news. One prominent example was a one-sided report by SPIEGEL ONLINE, for years the only major German news outlet available in English, which reported how electricity was supposedly becoming a luxury item in Germany. Subsequently, a number of foreign media outlets (such as the NYT) picked up the topic along with its skewed framing. Fortunately, over the last few years, more German media outlets have started offering news in English. In addition, a number of specialized actors appeared, offering professionalized information on the Energiewende in English specifically to foreign journalists and decision-makers.
  • Still, misunderstandings can occur. Journalists, like everybody else, are socialized and operate in a specific political and cultural environment. A French reporter is most familiar with a power sector dominated by large nuclear interests, offering little room for input from ordinary citizens. Furthermore, French nuclear power has long been seen as a cornerstone of French industrial policy. In this context, recent developments in Germany can be hard to contextualize for French onlookers. German news on a renewable energy transition driven largely by small-scale, distributed community power does not fit into existing notions of centralized power generation. International onlookers therefore often ask how the government gets the public to accept its renewable energy policies, whereas the reverse is a better question: how does the public get the government to implement certain policies when energy corporations get hurt in the process.
  • Finally, the nuclear and fossil-fuel firms impact public discourse. They provide financial support to a number of think tanks, universities, and research institutes. By doing so, the industry hopes to emphasize the continued importance of conventional energy. In their efforts to delegitimize the Energiewende, they readily rely on the afore-mentioned tactical hyperbole within the German debate and selective reporting in English to make their findings seem sound. Pointing out the spin requires more familiarity with the Energiewende than international readers generally have. Such reports argue, for instance, that the Energiewende is losing popular support – even as 93% of Germans continue to support the energy transition.

Communication on the Energiewende is improving

The current misunderstandings about the Energiewende abroad call for a more proactive and target-oriented communication. It is not enough to simply provide information. Instead, data, context and contacts need to be 1) specifically catered to the journalists and decision-makers around the globe; 2) provided in their mother-tongue; and 3) be as comprehensive as possible (including alerting to some of the difficulties) in order to reflect the true Energiewende story.

If Germany can demonstrate that there is a pathway for industrial economies into a post-fossil age, it will encourage others to follow suit. It would be a pity if Germany succeeded – but nobody heard about it.

Arne Jungjohann (@ArneJungjohann) is a political scientist and energy analyst. Together with Craig Morris he is co-authoring a history on Germany’s Energiewende which will be published in 2016.

National Geographic:

Government and utilities were pushing nuclear power—but many Germans were pushing back. This was new for them. In the decades after World War II, with a ruined country to rebuild, there had been little appetite for questioning authority or the past. But by the 1970s, the rebuilding was complete, and a new generation was beginning to question the one that had started and lost the war. “There’s a certain rebelliousness that’s a result of the Second World War,” a 50-something man named Josef Pesch told me. “You don’t blindly accept authority.”

Pesch was sitting in a mountaintop restaurant in the Black Forest outside Freiburg. In a snowy clearing just uphill stood two 320-foot-tall wind turbines funded by 521 citizen investors recruited by Pesch—but we weren’t talking about the turbines yet. With an engineer named Dieter Seifried, we were talking about the nuclear reactor that never got built, near the village of Wyhl, 20 miles away on the Rhine River.

The state government had insisted that the reactor had to be built or the lights would go out in Freiburg. But beginning in 1975, local farmers and students occupied the site. In protests that lasted nearly a decade, they forced the government to abandon its plans. It was the first time a nuclear reactor had been stopped in Germany.

The lights didn’t go out, and Freiburg became a solar city. Its branch of the Fraunhofer Institute is a world leader in solar research. Its Solar Settlement, designed by local architect Rolf Disch, who’d been active in the Wyhl protests, includes 50 houses that all produce more energy than they consume. “Wyhl was the starting point,” Seifried said. In 1980 an institute that Seifried co-founded published a study called Energiewende—giving a name to a movement that hadn’t even been born yet.


Energy Transition:

It would not be correct, however, to conclude that there is no competition with feed-in tariffs. For a given feed-in tariff, companies – from panel manufacturers to local installers – compete for customers. For instance, let’s say you want to put a solar array on your house. In Germany, you will get a couple of estimates from local installers, who will probably also give you a couple of options (such as monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels, or panels made in Germany or abroad). All of the companies you could buy from compete with each other.

Feed-in tariffs unleash the market

Not surprisingly, feed-in tariffs do not lead to unnecessarily high prices. In fact, Germany has the cheapest solar power in the world not because it has so much sunlight, but because of investment certainty and market maturity due to its feed-in tariff policy. Solar is so much cheaper in Germany than it is in sunny parts of the US, for instance, that the largest, most cost-efficient utility-scale solar power plants there still produce considerably more expensive power than small to midsize arrays in Germany. The Rocky Mountain Institute estimated the cost of commercial solar rooftops (10-100 kW) in the US at just above four dollars per watt at the end of 2013, compared to around 1.5 dollars in Germany.

Up until 2008, when the bottleneck in the supply of solar silicon finally worked itself out, critics of feed-in tariffs charged that Germany had been paying too much for photovoltaics with its feed-in tariffs, thereby keeping the cost up for the rest of the world, including developing countries in particular. But since prices began to plummet in 2008, we don’t hear that criticism anymore – because it wasn’t true in the first place.

Changes in German feed-in tariffs for PV did not bring about these lower prices; on the contrary, German politicians have been rushing to reduce solar feed-in tariffs to keep up with falling prices. Those who once claimed that German feed-in tariffs kept the price of solar up for the rest of the world should now explain why prices are down so much without being driven by cuts in German feed-in tariffs for PV.

The truth is that solar can get cheaper even if feed-in tariffs remain unchanged because there is still a competitive market. If you want to install a solar roof, you will pick one of the least expensive offers on the market.

Media Matters:

The U.S. is lagging behind Germany in solar power generation, but it doesn’t have anything to do with our solar potential. In fact, the Southwest has “among the best photovoltaic resources in the world,” according to a report by GTM Research. And even the East Coast states have greater solar potential than Germany, as illustrated by this map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:


24 Responses to “Germany’s Energy Transition Overwhelmingly Popular, despite Deniers”

  1. Gary Evans Says:

    Living in Germany, it’s clear to me that we are struggling against lobbyists to maintain momentum right now. Lignite coal is still being burned as the FIT subsidies decline.

    You’re right about the lack of quality reporting in Germany. Der Spiegel is not a good source of information in either English, or German. That’s why I read the Guardian, and Climate Crocks if I want better insights.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    “Fact-checking reveals that the above statements are myths.”

    Would have been nice if the author of that article had debunked those myths with links.

    The dynamics of Germany’s RE revolution are very complicated, the myths about it have some small measure of truth to them, and I am left, after reading this article, not particularly enlightened. Is it just me, or do others feel the same way? I would like to understand what is going on in Germany, as so many deniers spit out supposedly true factoids about it, but I must confess my ignorance.

    For example – is electricity comparatively expensive in Germany? If so, and if solar is so much cheaper there than the U.S., then how much truth is there to the griping about the poor subsidizing PV panels for the rich?

  3. rsmurf Says:

    And as usual fox pravda the propaganda network makes you less informed every time they say something!

    • Lionel Smith Says:

      Yes. Its that Trump like black hole syndrome, information goes in but precious little manages to escape. The wilful ignorance of FOX talking heads is matched only by that of their audience.

  4. lracine Says:

    The average cost of electricity for residential customers in Germany is
    about $0.39/kwhr.

    Compared to the US which is about $0.12/kwhr….

    Yes I believe that renewable and going carbon free are essential… HOWEVER, lets be pragmatic, sincere and honest about the impacts and cost.

    The reality is that the net price to the German Residential customer has taken a very large increase in the last few years.

    The article above is filled with half truths and spins, (I just pointed out one example with the real net cost to the end user, which is the bottom line)

    There are “stranded cost” that need to be addressed… “mal investments…” quickly switching over from long term investments in fossil fuel generation… to renewable… think about the investments in the supply chain for this… and think what the collapse for this supply chain will do to economies, financial sector etc etc… yes it needs to happen but the short term cost will be dear. Don’t gloss over it and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

    How do we logically switch from FF to renewable energy given the vast investment in the current infrastructure AND!!! to do this in the very little time we have left…

    The Grid needs to be redesigned so that instead of electrical generation following load demand… load demand follows electrical generation… this means a serious change in how we use electricity.

    • rsmurf Says:

      Who cares how much electricity is in germany! Not an argument for saving the planet from humans!

    • “The real cost to the end user” is about the same in Germany and the USA because Germans waste and use less energy. Buying power efficient equipment pays off. For a family the electricity bill is about the same.

      The whole sale prices for industry are a lot lower, just a few cents per kWh.

      The conservatives and corporatists have done their part in transferring the price of electricity from industry to families, trying to make the Energiewende less popular. They failed.

    • pendantry Says:

      Any attempt to determine or compare ‘real costs’ are doomed while our society continues to blindly externalise the pollution costs of energy production, especially those derived from fossoil.

  5. lracine Says:

    Here is a link to a realistic review of German Grid Stability.

    It includes much praise and points out the short falls that will need to be addressed.

    One thing they point out is that renewable electric energy does require certain issues be addressed, and German has done a great job. The fact is that some of German’s neighbors have marginal and unstable grids, when you add “renewable EE” to that mix you further destabilize a marginal system…..

  6. lracine Says:

    This is a very interesting article… explaining some of the German renewable energy situation in more detail… and the politics of letting the “big player” back in….. there are links to other articles embedded that are worth reading.

  7. Since the 2009 recession, Germany’s experience has been:

    RE up
    Nuclear down
    Coal flat
    Emissions flat

    So RE has been replacing nuclear, not fossil, and emissions have not improved. Big expense, for no progress.

    Emissions (by mass) is the ONLY way to measure progress. If you’re just looking at RE penetration, you’re missing the truth.

    So Germans support Energiewende? That’s nice. It would be even nicer if Energiewende actually worked.

    • It will be interesting to see how the refugee crisis impacts on German (or for that matter any country settled in) energy related greenhouse emissions. By and large the refugees are from countries with low/capita consumption of energy and are settling in countries with high/capita consumption. Take Syria for example at 147watts/ person/day (2008) compared with Germany at 861 watts/person/day (2012) Millions of extra permanent residents in high emitting countries is incompatible with a future declining emissions trend. Unless the lack of global leadership is rectified and growthist neoliberal ideology abandoned, any additional renewable energy added the the global mix will never replace destructive energy sources!

      • Robert Ely Says:

        Watts per day !!!! your rantings are not even dimensionally correct !
        Perhaps you mean what hours per day or something else. I presume you just copied this from somewhere without checking what it means !

      • J4Zonian Says:

        So it behooves us to

        1. renewablize as fast as possible, in both developed and developing (and dissolving) countries
        2. equalize politically and economically around the world as fast as possible
        3. excite compassion and cooperation around the world in every way possible to come to a solution to existing and future refugee crises
        4. emphasize the UN’s functions and power to prevent neo-colonialism and aggression so we can avoid causing involuntary migration

        Of course doing all this is monstrously difficult, politically. It will take sacrifice and long hard work on the part of all of us on the left, to overcome the opposition (and momentum) of the right on every one of those.

    • We have to get to (nearly) zero emissions world wide.

      The large build out of renewable energy in Germany (and many other forerunner countries and states) has increased the size of the market and helped decrease the prices. One of the reasons why solar energy is now competitive with coal in many sunny countries, even with the current fake prices that do not take the pollution by coal into account. This further increases the market and decreases the prices. And so on.

      That is why people who are against clean energy and people who dispute main stream climate science faint interest in a little lower German CO2 emission (I do not know whether this goes for Keith Pickering, but it is a clear pattern).

      • Just FYI, I have always fully accepted climate science, and I’m 100% in favor of zero-carbon energy. But replacing nuclear with RE for a net gain of zero is clearly not the solution to climate change, and never will be.

        Germany screwed the pooch, and I sincerely hope the rest of the world can learn a lesson from that, and fast.

  8. niceasiamies Says:

    German Energiewende was never primary about climate change mitigation but nuclear phase-out.

    The point is not getting more renewables, if they do not seem to work. Phasing out nuclear has already caused thousands of deaths and illnesses, as coal and lignite are sorely needed for years to balance out renewables production.

    Energiewende is hopelessly slow in decreasing emissions compared to France, Sweden, Belgium.

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