With new laws in place, land allocated and more generous subsidy schemes green-lit, 2023 will be decisive in determining whether Germany is on track towards meeting its ambitious 80% renewable electricity target in 2030.
The fourth-largest economy in the world was once an early pioneer in the development of green technologies. A mid-2010s slowdown after the initial boom resulted in the Energiewende losing some of its lustre. The new government in Berlin, elected in 2021, vowed change.
By 2030, the country should consume 600 terawatt hours of renewable electricity, 80% of its total, the government coalition agreed. The laws designed to achieve the necessary renewables boost were crafted in great haste throughout 2022.
German bureaucrats suffered from burnout and anxiety and government-funded research agencies were called to help, with an energy crisis nipping at their heels. In January 2023, the regulations will come into effect. This will be the year to show whether sufficient change can be realised.
“We already need the trend in 2023, one [wind] turbine per day must become up to six per day,” explained Simone Peter, the head of the renewable energy lobby association BEE, at a EURACTIV event in late November 2022.
To produce the desired amount of electricity, the government is aiming for 115 Gigawatt (GW) of installed onshore wind capacity, 30 GW of offshore wind capacity and 215 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 2030.
By the end of September 2022, 57 GW of onshore wind capacity was installed across Germany, according to a monitoring report from 27 December. Solar PV amounted to 63.4 GW, while offshore wind remains at some 8 GW.
The massive gap between reality and ambition leaves a momentous challenge. Eight years remain to more than double onshore wind, more than triple solar and quadruple offshore wind generation capacity.
At the heart of the government’s efforts are the overhaul of the renewable energy law (EEG) as well as a new onshore wind law and the offshore wind law, termed “the biggest reform in decades.” Renewables are now in the “overriding public interest,” limiting lawsuits against their development.
Permitting, often cited as a key bottleneck, is expected to speed up as well. Citizen’s projects – once a workhorse of renewables expansion, allowing residents to share in the profits – of up to 18 MW and solar projects of up to 6 MW will be permitted. To aid their development, they can apply for upfront funding support of up to €200,000 and be exempt from most administrative restrictions.
The government-subsidised price offered for onshore wind power is also set to increase by 25% as of 1 January, in a bid to reflect higher production costs of wind turbines and to counter continued low participation in government renewables tenders.
“We are thus tripling the renewable energy expansion on water, on land and on the roof,” explainedSven Giegold, a senior public official and state secretary at the Germany ministry of economy and climate action.
But while the government is optimistic in public, documents paint a different picture.
“The current momentum of new construction is still far from sufficient to move towards the target path,” the monitoring report from late December cautions. “2023 must be the year of implementation,” stressed BEE’s Peter in a statement made on 27 December.
In theory, everything is in place for Germany to get back on track towards a green electricity system by 2035. Yet, going into this crucial year, experts agree that the speed of renewables expansion is “significantly too low.”
Comparing the trend of the past twelve months, the “speed of solar PV build out must triple,” their report from December finds. Meanwhile, the “expansion of onshore wind power is still lagging behind photovoltaics, the pace here must be almost quadrupled.”
The expansion targets are set to increase yearly, before peaking in the second part of the decade. Should Germany fail to achieve its ambitions in the first and easiest year, its prospects could be gloomy.
Places to watch
Going forward, two regions will be ones to watch out for.
Once largely known for its strict rules against onshore wind, wealthy Bavaria, Germany’s largest state to the south, is turning into a solar force to be reckoned with. By June 2022, Bavaria added an entire 1 GW of solar capacity. In 2021, it added more than 1.5 GW.
“In 2021, new PV construction was still dominated by far by Bavaria,” the end-of-year government report reads. And the country is increasingly doing a U-turn on wind power, too.
Another region that will be crucial is East Germany. Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt are a collection of comparatively lagging states, known for their strong preference for the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
In Saxony, 2021 saw more wind turbines being torn down than installed, resulting in a net negative capacity change. By June 2022, one single wind turbine was installed in Saxony for the year.
The situation in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt is similar. By June 2022, the two states had expanded their renewable capacity by 200 megawatts of solar. In the same period, Bavaria constructed 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity.
Overcoming their stark resistance to renewables is a major challenge for Berlin: Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck has made trips to all three states in a bid to foster goodwill. In Saxony, however, he was welcomed by a choir of citizens protesting EU sanctions on Russian gas.