by Donald Aitken, Ph.D.
Can renewable energy development keep pace with rising global energy demand? As world governments struggle with this question, Germany is advancing with resolve in a transition to 100% renewable energy. The German government accepts the goal is technically and economically feasible, and has adopted a long-term national policy for the transition. After years of reliance on nuclear energy - which supplies 30% of the nation's electricity - Germany has concluded that nuclear is a dead-end and has established long term plans to phase it out.
Germany's most urgent conclusion is that the period lasting until about 2020 comprises "make-or-break" years for the renewable energy transition. It is this conviction that has driven German policy makers to introduce the world's most aggressive support for renewables, to stick with it during the past decade and to guarantee that support for the next 20-30 years.
The first renewable energy source to receive serious government attention in Germany was wind. In the late 1980s, the government started the "100 megawatts of wind" program, jump-starting the German wind industry. A serious national effort began with the first "feed-in law," which went into effect in 1991, requiring utilities to hook up to and purchase energy from all renewable energy providers in their areas, and to pay at least 90% of the retail price for the electricity purchased from them.
In 1996, the government amended the Federal Building Construction Law to permit wind generators to be built in natural areas. By 1997, 2100 megawatts (MW) of wind had been installed in Germany.
The country made an important policy advance with the April 2000 introduction of the Renewable Energy Sources Act ("Act on Granting Priority to Renewable Energy Sources," or EEG). The EEG was most recently amended last July and extended for several more years. Under the new law, onshore wind turbines coming online in 2005 will receive not less than 8.53 euro cents (about $US 11 cents) per kilowatt-hour for the first five years (12 years for offshore development), and 5.39 euro cents (US 7 cents) after that, for 20 years of commissioning. Special incentives are intended to redress reduced power production (hence, revenue) in the lower wind regimes.
Germany's accomplishments since 1990 have been astonishing. By the end of September, Germany had 15,688 MW of wind installations, delivering 6.2% of the country's electrical energy. It was the world leader in total installations, as well as in the annual rate of installations. Germany has about 125% more installed wind energy capacity than either the U.S. or Spain, which are virtually tied for second.
Photovoltaics (PV): Germany's accomplishments in the development of solar energy for both electricity and water heating are as dramatic as those for wind, despite starting somewhat later. This achievement is especially remarkable considering that Germany's average solar potential is about 1000 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year - about half that of the U.S. Nevertheless, Germany was the fastest growing PV market in the world in 2003, when over 20,000 new PV systems were installed, representing a capacity of 145 MW peak (MWp) and bringing the end-of-year total to over 400 MWp of PV installed.
In 2004, Germany installed another 25,000 PV systems, totaling 300 MWp, double the 2003 installation pace and exceeding an annual investment of 1 billion euros (US$1.3 billion) for PV for the first time.
The PV industry was effectively spurred by the "100,000 roofs program," which from 1999 to 2003 produced 65,324 PV systems totaling 342 MW of capacity. The aim was to stimulate a new building-integrated PV (BIPV) market. The government initially stimulated this program by offering interest-free 10-year loans, waiving the last installment payment and guaranteeing a "feed-in" incentive of 8.5 euro cents per kilowatt-hour. With the beginning of the EEG on April 1, 2000, the PV incentive price jumped to 50.62 euro cents (US 66 cents). By the end of 2004, Germany had become the world's No. 2 PV producer and the world's No. 1 PV installer.
The amended Renewable Energy Act of 2004 assures continued activity in the German PV market. The base incentive remains 45.7 euro cents. This incentive is increased to 54-57 euro cents (US 70-75 cents), depending on the size for PV systems mounted on building roofs (the upper size limit has been eliminated). The incentive is further increased to 59-62.4 euro cents (US 77-81 cents) for PV systems integrated into building surfaces other than roofs (eg., walls).
Because the upper size limit for PV systems has been eliminated, even large ground-mounted systems are assured a revenue stream of 45.7 euro cents (US 59 cents) for 20 years plus the year of commissioning. The law also requires grid operators to give preference to renewable energy generators, and to guarantee connection to the grid even if that means upgrading their transmission facilities. They can recover their costs in the fees they charge for use of their facilities.