No country has embraced renewable energy more avidly than Germany. But a host of untoward realities – soaring electricity bills, rising carbon emissions and growing dependence on Russian gas – are intruding rudely on Germany’s green dream.
In response to such worries, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved a plan last week to trim subsidies for solar and wind power. The proposed law would also exempt fewer companies from paying a stiff renewable energy surcharge, an exemption that has come under heavy fire in Europe for giving German industry an unfair competitive boost.
In truth, the proposed energy reform law would merely slow down Germany’s drive toward green energy. It doesn’t alter the visionary (some would say utopian) goals of the country’s policy of Energiewende, or energy switchover. Launched in 2000, when Social Democrats ran the government, the Energiewende calls for abolishing nuclear power and envisions renewables providing 80 percent of Germany’s power by mid-century.
The conservative Merkel had reportedly been skeptical about the “zero option” for nuclear energy. After Japan’s Fukushima calamity in 2011, however, she abruptly changed course, endorsing the phase out of all nuclear plants by 2022. Meanwhile, Germans have invested heavily in wind and solar power, encouraged by a generous “feed-in tariff” that guarantees prices and priority access for any renewable energy fed into the nation’s power grid.