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Can renewable energy sources power the world?
Can renewable energy sources power the world?

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5 Renewable energy futures for Germany

In Germany, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, the government decided to adopt a revised ‘Energy Concept’ for the country over the coming four decades. According to the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU, 2011):

The objectives are a rapid transition to the age of renewable energies and the phasing out of nuclear energy by the end of 2022. The intention is for renewable energies’ share of power generation to rise from the current 17 percent of power consumption to at least 35 percent in 2020. The German government will strive to ensure this share is 50 percent by 2030, a figure that should rise to 60 percent by 2040, then 80 percent by 2050. [...] However, promoting energy efficiency will be important too if the demand for energy is to fall.

To begin with, conventional (i.e. gas and coal-fired) power plants will still play a central role in ensuring security of supply; they are able to provide power at any time. The expansion of grids, the application of load management, the improvement of power feed-in forecasts for wind and solar energy, and the development of storage technologies will allow a power system overwhelmingly based on renewable energies to secure our supply [...] The measures planned will allow CO2 emissions to be cut at least 80 percent by 2050.

Germany’s independent advisory council on the environment (SRU) also published in 2011 a study suggesting that an even more ambitious target of a 100% renewable electricity system for Germany is feasible and economic. As its report (SRU, 2011) states:

Our scenario computations show that Germany could readily achieve a wholly renewable electricity supply that is both reliable and affordable. Providing that the relevant storage facilities and grids are implemented, the renewable energy potential in Germany and Europe would allow for the satisfaction of maximum posited electricity demand at all times throughout the year, using wind turbines, solar collectors, and other currently available technologies and despite fluctuations in the availability of renewable electricity.

As the lowest cost energy resource in the run-up to 2050, wind energy, particularly from offshore wind turbines, plays a pivotal role in all of the scenarios discussed in the present report. On the other hand, the level of solar energy use in the various scenarios varies according to electricity demand and the amount of electricity that is imported. Biomass use in the scenarios involving transnational energy supply networks accounts for no more than 7% of electricity demand, largely owing to land use conflicts and the relatively high cost of this energy resource.

In the view of the SRU, instituting a wholly renewable electricity supply in Germany by 2050 would entail economic advantages in addition to promoting climate protection, whereby the aggregate costs of such a system would be largely determined by the extent to which a network comprising other European countries is established.

Inflation adjusted, a wholly renewable electricity supply using German resources only would be relatively cost intensive, ranging from 9 to 12 euro-cents per kWh, depending on demand. On the other hand, an inter-regional smaller-scale German­ Danish-Norwegian, or larger-scale Europe-North Africa network, would provide electricity at a cost of only 6 to 7 euro-cents per kWh, including the cost of international grid and storage capacity expansion. Our rough estimates indicate that expanding the German grid would entail additional costs amounting to approximately 1 to 2 euro-cents per kWh. Over the long term, renewable electricity will prove to be less cost intensive than conventional low carbon technologies such as CCS power plants and new nuclear power plants, whose costs will rise owing respectively to limited uranium resources and storage facilities.

(SRU, 2011)

The eight SRU scenarios mentioned in the report are summarised in Table 2 below.

Table 2 Eight scenarios for a wholly renewable electricity supply for Germany in 2050.
AssumptionsGerman electricity demand in 2050: 500TWhGerman electricity demand in 2050: 700TWh
Self sufficiencyScenario 1.a: DE 100% SV-500Scenario 1.b: DE 100% SV-700
Net self-sufficiency, interchange with Denmark and NorwayScenario 2.1.a: DE-DK-NO 100% SV-500Scenario 2.1.b: DE-DK-NO 100% SV-700
Maximum 15% net import from Denmark and NorwayScenario 2.2.a: DE-DK-NO 85% SV-500Scenario 2.2.b: DE-DK-NO 85% SV-700
Maximum 15% net import from the Europe-North Africa region (EUNA)Scenario 3.a: DE-DK-NO 85% SV-500Scenario 3.b: DE-DK-NO 85% SV-700


In the first four scenarios, German energy demand is some 500 TWh per year (SV500). In the second four scenarios, electricity demand rises to 700 TWh per year (SV700). The four variants involve different assumptions about the extent of self-sufficiency in Germany and the strength of interconnections to neighbouring countries.

The next section discusses whether some of the measures that Germany is implementing could be used as a model for other countries, including the UK.