The new German government must align the Energiewende with the European Union

Germany has been seen as a leader in renewable energy in the European Union, but there is still a long way to go. To revitalize both European and German energy transitions, Rebecca Bertram proposes three strategies for Germany’s new government to put in place at the EU level: better goals, binding goals, and the long-awaited coal phaseout.

Euroean Flags
Teaser Image Caption
Europe’s energy transition could be more ambitious – Germany can choose now to push it, or watch the EU fall behind

The German elections last month have lead to drawn-out negotiations between parties to build a coalition. The most likely result is a “Jamaica” coalition between the Conservatives of Angela Merkel (CDU/CSU – black), the Libertarians (FDP – yellow) and the Greens. But meanwhile, the rest of Europe is discussing how it wants to position itself in terms of climate and energy by 2030.

In Germany, the coalition agreement forms the basis for the following four years of government priorities, and mentions here are important if the government is to prioritize energy and climate. The Heinrich Böll Foundation recently published a strategy memo for Germany’s new government, suggesting that it push the ongoing European energy and climate negotiations forward in order to provide a supporting framework for the country’s own Energiewende.

Energy transition togehter with European neighbors

Germany has set itself the goal of fundamentally transforming its energy system by the middle of this century. By that date, carbon emissions are to be lowered by 80 to 95 percent (compared to 1990 levels) through a set of various measures: energy efficiency and the rapid build-up of renewables. Today, Germany already produces 30 percent of its electricity supply by renewable energy.

Yet Germany’s energy transition can only succeed together with its European neighbors. The reasons for this are manifold: A Europe-wide integrated electricity grid would lower the costs of integrating renewables and offers valuable flexibility options increasingly necessary for the energy system of the future. And only European climate efforts can play a meaningful role in assuming the continent’s international obligations in reaching the Paris climate goals.

As a basis for the European energy and climate discussions, the European Commission laid out a set of eight policy proposals in the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” policy package last November. These will continue to be discussed between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council consisting of the heads of states from all EU member states. Negotiations are likely to last until the next European elections in May 2019, thus it is important that the next German government realizes soon how important the European dimension is to reaching its own Energiewende goals.

The next German government should therefore use these European energy and climate negotiations to set the framework for pushing the German energy transition further.

Raise the Europe-wide energy goals

First, Germany’s new government should step in to raise the proposed Europe-wide energy goals. The transformation of the energy system requires massive investments, and clearly defined goals serve as a main policy instrument to provide such investment security. The European Commission has proposed a Europe-wide goal for renewables of 27 percent and an energy efficiency target of 30 percent by 2030. Yet both of these goals are not ambitious enough to put Europe in line with its Paris climate obligations. The European Parliament has realized this shortcoming and is likely to push for a higher renewables goal as well as a separate long-term goal for the middle of this century. That means that there is still room for maneuvering while these goals are being discussed and finalized between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the individual member states. Germany could play a decisive role in this debate if it builds strong alliances with other progressive EU member states that favor higher targets.

Second, Germany’s new government should push for the inclusion of checks in the system. Energy goals are only useful if they involve mechanisms by which progress can be monitored and ultimately altered. As it stands now, the proposal by the European Commission is not sufficient: it is only binding on the European level, not for individual EU member states. Germany has an interest in maintaining a stable investment climate for renewables and efficiency options that can only be met by goals accompanied by a functioning monitoring system, to stop the European Union of falling short.

A national and European coal phase-out

Third, Germany’s new government should use the European Commission’s proposals to initiate a national and European coal phase-out. The energy transition will only achieve its climate goals if the rapid build-up of renewables and the deployment of energy efficiency measures are being matched by a gradual retreat of conventional power sources, especially coal. The European Commission has laid out a proposal on how structural change in coal regions throughout Europe can be supported financially, opening a European debate on a continent-wide coal phase-out. These proposals should be used by the new German government as a basis to think through structural change options in affected coal regions in Germany and Europe.

Coalition talks to form the new German government are likely to begin soon. Let’s hope that policymakers realize the importance of the European energy transition when driving its own Energiewende forward, and that this gets a mention in the important coalition agreement.

For those of you who read German, continue reading the full strategy memo here.

More about energy transitions can be found on our blog Energy Transition - The Global Energiewende.