Germany running behind its renewable energy ambition

Government infighting and bureaucracy continue to block the approval of new renewable energy projects in Germany, despite the emergency caused by falling gas supplies from Russia.

By 2030, renewables should produce 80% of German electricity, according to the government’s plans. Recently, Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave out the order to construct “four to five onshore wind turbines a day” by 2030 and promised to check in with Germany’s 16 states “every month” to verify “how far they have progressed,” he told Bild am Sonntag in an interview.

But the mood in the renewable energy industry paints a different picture. A survey conducted at the annual gathering of lobby group Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energien (BEE) on 9 February saw 45% respond that Germany’s “Energiewende,” the green energy transition, was not on the right path. Another 46% judged the business environment as merely “satisfactory.”

Nonetheless, some were more optimistic. 47% of respondents expect a favourable development in 2023. Germany’s Economy and Climate Minister, Robert Habeck, has made the success of the Energiewende his chief project, calling it the “most ambitious project since World War Two.”

“If Germany fails to meet its climate targets, we will not be able to demand that others meet theirs,” Habeck underlined. In 2022, his main objective was to bring down the time it takes to obtain a permit to build a wind turbine or solar panel. 

Clashing with nature conservation activists, he remarked that the “speed of permitting does not go against the quality of the process.” In other words, conservationists should have an interest in climate protection, he went on to add.

Aside from all the laws Habeck pushed in 2022, which awarded renewables the status of being “in the overriding public interest,” one key EU law should be backing him already.

In December 2022, the EU’S 27 energy ministers agreed to implement a gas price cap as well as a law to speed up renewable energy permitting procedures. 

Government squabbling

The emergency EU regulation would allow the German government to circumvent municipalities, which often have the last word when it comes to renewables permitting. 

Yet, this emergency regulation, too, has now seemingly fallen prey to internal government squabbles.

On 10 February, the text that would allow its insertion into German law was due to be presented to parliament. It was not.

“This project must not be put on the back burner,” said Kerstin Andeae, chairwoman of the board at energy industry association BDEW. “Time is of the essence,” she added, saying three of the 18 months foreseen in the EU Emergency Regulation have already elapsed.

Sources attribute the delay to government infighting, with the liberal FDP pushing for highway construction to be added to the list of projects of “overriding public interest”, alongside renewables. The Greens resist this, resulting in a squabble that is holding the emergency regulation hostage.

According to Habeck, the law is on track. “It can’t really get much faster than this,” he told the press on 10 February, adding that the text should pass parliament and achieve state approval on 3 March.


cover: Germany is struggling to match its renewables ambition, as roadblocks persist. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]