Germany has set itself ambitious goals in order to be at the forefront of climate protection and future technologies. But how good are we really? FOCUS Online analyzes the most important areas.
What is the goal? In its Easter package this year, the traffic light coalition decided on new expansion targets for renewable energies. According to this, solar systems with a capacity of at least 215 gigawatts are to be installed in Germany by 2030. That would correspond to 38 percent of today’s annual electricity consumption. However, since this will increase by 2030, the proportion would then be 30 percent.
Where are we now? This July, for example, solar power with an output of more than 40 gigawatts was simultaneously fed into the public power grid for the first time, as reported by the Freiburg Fraunhofer Institute. A total of around 59 gigawatts of capacity has now been installed in Germany.
What problems are holding us back? The expansion rates in recent years have been far too low. Since 2013, more than 5 gigawatts of capacity have not been newly installed in any year. In order to achieve the goal of 215 gigawatts by 2030, expansion rates of 17 gigawatts per year are now required. The expansion is slowed down above all by bureaucracy: Because certification is required for almost every system, the number of applications to the responsible authorities increases in proportion to the expansion of the solar systems. Many places are now overwhelmed with this, and applications are delayed for up to a year before a plant can go into operation. In addition, each of the approximately 900 network operators in Germany has its own forms, very few of which exist in digital form. This discourages not only homeowners, but also companies planning large-scale systems. In addition, the expansion is currently stalling due to global delivery problems, because many modules have to be delivered from Asia, especially China. The cost of solar panels has increased by around 60 percent since 2020.
Are we reaching the goal? The federal government has set itself the goal of tripling the expansion of renewable energies per year. If it works, that would be enough to achieve the solar targets for 2030. In fact, the pace has increased: According to the Federal Network Agency, almost 3.2 gigawatts of capacity were already installed between January and June 2022. However, this is still far too little. If the pace of expansion does not increase quickly, the goal will probably be missed with a bang.
What is the goal? In the same package in which the expansion targets for solar systems were also set, there were also new targets for the expansion of wind power. In 2030, it should have 115 gigawatts on land and 30 gigawatts at sea. The shares would then be 16 or 4 percent of German electricity consumption in 2030.
Where are we now? In the case of wind energy, we are already much closer to the expansion target. At the end of May, the theoretical maximum output of all systems installed on land was 57.7 gigawatts, i.e. around half of the target for 2030. Offshore, i.e. at sea, the output is currently 7.8 gigawatts.
What problems are holding us back? The expansion of wind energy has been stagnating since 2018. While systems with a record output of 6.6 gigawatts were put into operation in 2017, since then the cumulative figure has only been 9.3 gigawatts, with the trend declining every year. No new systems have been installed at sea since 2020, only old ones have been improved.
The expansion is snagged by bureaucratic rules. These include, for example, the extremely strict distance rules in some federal states. In Bavaria, for example, wind turbines have to be built so far away from any settlement that in practice there is no patch of earth left to build on. In addition, there is a tendering process introduced in 2018 in which suppliers of wind turbines have to apply. The bureaucratic effort involved has driven up the costs. In addition, the time from the start of construction to the commissioning of a wind turbine has increased from 11 to 26 months on average.
Are we reaching the goal? An increase of 2.3 to 2.5 gigawatts on land is expected this year. However, an average of 6.4 gigawatts per year would be required by 2030. It should go faster with the “wind on land law” that will apply from February 2023 and was recently passed. Accordingly, the federal states are obliged to make at least 2 percent of their area available for wind turbines – but only until 2032. By 2027 the area should be 1.4 percent, which would be around twice as much space as today. If a federal state misses its targets, the distance rules applicable there will be overridden. In addition, bureaucratic hurdles, such as nature conservation rules for wind turbines, have been standardized so that providers and authorities in every federal state can deal with them more quickly. Whether that will be enough to achieve the expansion targets will only become clear in the coming years.
What is the goal? With the Climate Protection Act of 2021, passed under the old government, Germany has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 65 percent below the 1990 level by 2030. By 2045, Germany should even be completely climate-neutral, i.e. not emitting more CO2 than can be naturally absorbed again, for example through forests.
Where are we now? According to the German government’s climate protection report, around 762 million tons of greenhouse gases were released in 2021. That is 38.7 percent less than in 1990, ie a little more than half of the targeted reduction. However, it took Germany 31 years to do this. So only nine more years remain for the other half of the reduction. In addition, emissions increased again in 2021. In 2020, emissions were already 40.8 percent below the 1990 level, also due to the economic restrictions caused by the Corona crisis.
What problems are holding us back? Germany is clearly missing its climate targets in several areas. In the case of transport, for example, greenhouse gas emissions have hardly fallen compared to 1990, and we are also lagging far behind in the building sector. Lax legislation is mainly to blame for this. For years, Germany did not introduce a CO2 tax, but retained the counterproductive commuter allowance. There was hardly any incentive for house builders to replace old oil heating systems. The diesel privilege, which favors fuel over petrol for tax purposes, was never touched. Added to this is the slow transition to renewable energies, as detailed above.
Are we reaching the goal? The gradually increasing CO2 tax was launched before the last federal election. The traffic light coalition has also decided that from 2024 only heating systems that are operated with at least 65 percent renewable energy – usually heat pumps – may be installed in buildings. Overall, stronger energy efficiency standards will apply to house construction from 2023. In the transport sector, more money is to flow into the expansion of the railway and fully electric cars are to be promoted more.
A high pace of new regulations is necessary. Most recently, the expert council for climate issues set up by the federal government criticized Germany’s progress two weeks ago in its biennial report. The climate targets cannot be achieved with the measures taken in previous years.
What is the goal? The federal government wants to see between seven and ten million electric cars on German roads by 2030. That would be around 15 percent of all cars in the country. In addition, a million public charging points are to be created where everyone can charge their electric car. Private charging stations, for example in your own home, are not counted.
Where are we now? Only 756,000 cars in Germany are currently operated purely electrically, i.e. just 7.6 percent of the target. According to the Federal Network Agency, 59,228 normal and 11,523 fast charging points were in operation by the beginning of October. That’s about seven percent of the target.
What problems are holding us back? The German car industry has long slept through the transition from combustion engines to electric cars. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have only been investing billions in the development and construction of electric cars for a few years. The number of admissions is increasing accordingly. They have increased tenfold since 2018. Experts currently see problems more with cars than with politics. So far, many e-cars have not yet been blessed with a long range and are more expensive than combustion engines. Despite everything, the sales figures for electric cars are currently growing three times as fast as the expansion of the charging infrastructure. A study by the KfW development bank argues that this is mainly due to the fact that charging stations have not been able to be operated profitably so far. More government funding could solve this problem.
Are we reaching the goal? Yes, but only because the federal government lowered the target this year. Originally, 15 million electric cars and 1.5 million charging points were planned. Purchase premiums and tax breaks are intended to help electric cars achieve their goals, while the CO2 tax makes petrol and diesel more expensive. Incidentally, this is not sufficient for the climate goals. The environmental organization Greenpeace calculated last year that at least 20 million electric cars would be needed by 2030.
What is the goal? Unlike the other categories, there are no measurable specifications from the federal government for the 5G expansion. The 2021 coalition agreement only stipulated that 5G should be available “nationwide” by 2025. The three major network operators Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and O2 Telefónica have formulated their own goals from this. As a rule, they want a network coverage of 98 to 99 percent by 2025.
Where are we now? All three network operators are currently exceeding their expansion targets. Deutsche Telekom already exceeded the 90 percent network coverage mark in 2021; it is currently 92 percent. Vodafone and O2 are a bit slower, but at around 75 percent they are ahead of their self-imposed goals.
What problems are holding us back? When it comes to grid expansion, increasing the percentages becomes more difficult the higher they are. At Telekom, for example, it’s still about covering rural regions that are difficult to access. The last one to two percent in particular are economic and technical challenges, which is why there have been so-called “white spots” with no or only rudimentary Internet reception for years.
Are we reaching the goal? According to the current figures, it can be assumed that the network operators will achieve their goals by 2025, even if it could end up being difficult. However, the objectives are not just imaginary brands, a failure would have tangible consequences. At the auction of the 5G frequencies in 2019, the federal government made it a requirement for all operators to provide at least 98 percent of all households with 100 Mbit/s fast Internet by the end of this year. In addition, mobile phone rates of at least 50 Mbit/s must be achieved on all railway lines with a high volume of passengers. Since all three network operators are competing with each other here, these goals should probably all be achieved.
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