It is important to discuss the advantages as well as the disadvantages of the German energy transition, Energiewende. One significant component of such a discussion is to scrutinise often repeated claims in the debate. This report aims to look further into three claims, often recurring when debating the Energiewende:
- Energiewende has led to higher electricity prices, especially for German households.
- The share of electricity from coal fired power plants has increased in spite of – or even because of – the energy transition.
- Energiewende is difficult to implement because of citizen protests following the expansion of renewable energy.
In sum, the results indicate the following:
The electricity price of German households has been increasing for several years, whereas the production price and the wholesale electricity price have fallen dramatically. The falling prices are according to most experts a consequence of the introduction of renewable energy on the market.
However, these lower electricity prices have not lead to lower prices for German households, since the energy companies have chosen not to transfer the reduction in wholesale electricity prices to the consumers. Instead, the price for electricity has risen as a consequence of an increase in the so-called EEG charge (Erneuerbare Energien-Gesetz, “Renewable Energy Law”).
The EEG charge is one of the most important instruments to stimulate the expansion of renewable energy in Germany, since it finances the costs caused by the guaranteed price paid to producers of renewable energy, regardess of the price level on the German energy exchange. The increase of the EEG charge has, in turn, three causes: an extended expansion of renewable energy, the construction of the EEG charge (implying that the EEG charge go up for the households when the wholesale price falls) and a rising number of companies, that are exempted from paying the EEG charge. Many experts find, that the social costs related to the conventional power plants should be accounted for just as transparently as the EEG charge is accounted for today. Only then will it be possible for the households to get a clear and fair view of how much – or perhaps rather how little – the Energiewende really costs.
It is not the German energy transition that has led to the expanding share of electricity from coal fired power plants in Germany. Even though many nuclear power plants have been shut down as part of the Energiwende, the quickly growing share of electricity from renewable energies has compensated for that loss. Coal power has replaced a certain share of electricity generated from gas, since the former is currently much cheaper than the latter. This is in turn caused by a low global wholesale price on hard coal, and low prices of emission certificates in the EU ETS. The low production price has led to a larger net export of electricity to Germany’s neighbouring countries, which also, in part, explains the increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions in recent years.
Gas powered plants cause less carbon dioxide emissions and are also a better complement to the natural fluctuation inherent in systems with a large share of renewable energies. The German government is now making efforts to diminish the growing share of coal-generated electricity. On aninternational level by trying to reform the EU trade system and on a national level by preparing legal reforms to diminish the greenhouse gas emissions from the coal fired plants.
Even if there is a general high acceptance for the Energiewende in Germany, there are numerous examples of citizen protests delaying or even hindering building projects related to renewable energy in Germany. This is especially clear when it comes to the carrying out of the planned high voltage transmission lines, which will conduct electricity from northern to southern Germany. Since the citizen protests often lead to long-lasting conflicts with delays causing large economic losses, more and more emphasis is given to professional participation. One method that has proven successful is a professionally carried out participatory process implemented in parallel and sometimes together with the formal implementation.
Relevance for Sweden
Considering the entered international agreements as well as the national climate and energy objectives that Sweden has set, it is probable that Sweden too is faced with entering into an energy transition of its own. It is therefore vital that the image of the German energy transition is not limited to simplified arguments about its suggested negative impacts. Instead it should offer a wider and deeper insight to the complex context that an energy transition of this magnitude implies .