After nuclear shutdown this year, Germany is expected to stop using coal-fired electricity by 2038 at the latest. The new coalition government, led by Social Democrats Olaf Scholz, says “ideally” wants to close it earlier, in 2030.
Politicians want to fill this gap with a massive ramp-up of renewable energies.
Solar, wind and hydropower accounted for around a third of German electricity production in 2021, with renewables generating 41% when biomass is included. Politicians want that figure to reach 80% by 2030, even as demand for electricity increases by a third.
As part of the three-party coalition agreement signed in December between the center-left Social Democrats, the Greens and the fiscally more conservative Free and Libertarian Democrats, Germany wants to quadruple the capacity of solar panels, triple the capacity offshore wind turbine and increase onshore wind capacity by around 70% within a decade.
It will be difficult. Progress in installing wind turbines has been slow over the past year, with obstacles such as building cables to carry electricity from the blustery north to the energy-hungry south and west, and overcoming bureaucracy and local resistance.
The coalition agreement includes plans to make solar panels mandatory on new commercial buildings and to give more than 2% of Germany’s land mass to wind turbines. Neighboring communities should “benefit appropriately,” he adds.
The efforts should “lead to more intensive cooperation with communities on the ground,” said Maria Pastukhova, senior policy adviser at the Berlin office of E3G, the environmental think tank.
Despite efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Germany plans to rely on gas-fired power plants to fill gaps in renewables during system redesign. Experts estimate that up to 44 gigawatts of new gas capacity may be needed by 2035 to meet this need.
The holy grail of hydrogen
Politicians insist that the use of natural gas will not be a permanent measure. Rather, power plants and gas pipelines will need to be ready to run on hydrogen, which produces no carbon emissions when burned, before an expected massive ramp-up of the hydrogen produced using renewable electricity.
Germany is investing heavily to try to guarantee an increase in hydrogen production. Around € 8 billion is invested in more than 60 hydrogen projects, of which around € 2 billion will go to help steelmakers make the switch to create demand.