All of which might explain why politicians from several of Germany’s parties have said that when in their home districts — even traditionally arch conservative places, like rural Bavaria — their constituents call for more Energiewende.
How did Germany’s power supply and its suppliers change so dramatically, so quickly?
"It’s a complex work of art," says van Bergen about Stadtwerke Schwäbisch Hall’s daily managing of the county’s energy supply.
Even just four years ago, just about everybody involved in the Energiewende thought that big-ticket projects like enormous offshore wind farms planned for Germany’s northern seas and Desertec, the mega-project to import solar energy across the Mediterranean from sprawling concentrated solar power arrays in the Middle East and Northern Africa, would be integral to Germany going renewable.These projects, however, have flopped spectacularly. Offshore wind has proven extremely pricey and technologically much trickier than originally assumed, which has led to billons in cost overruns and years-long delays.Some experts argue that if the Energiewende were pushed forward with more resolve — coupled with energy savings and an expanded power grid in Germany and across Europe — Germany could go completely renewable by 2035 or 2040.(By 2030, the municipality of Schwäbisch Hall will draw on green power and heat for all of its needs.One of the crucial take-aways from Schwäbisch Hall — and Germany’s renewable energy revolution — is that small can be big, and become much bigger quickly.
In just a dozen years, industrial-powerhouse Germany has replaced around 31 percent of its nuclear and fossil fuel generated electricity with green power, produced overwhelmingly from moderately sized onshore wind, solar PV, hydro, and bio-energy installations — an achievement no one predicted when the Energiewende commenced in 2000. Berlin is doing this at the same time that it’s phasing out of nuclear power, a process set in motion by Germany’s Social Democrat-Green government 14 years ago, but accelerated by an originally skeptical Merkel after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.Chancellor Merkel’s government is more conservative in its projections — and policies — looking to do so sometime after 2050.) Germany’s whole power supply — and the way it’s managed — looks very different than it did not so long ago.In contrast to the big, centralized power plants that could meet demand with roughly the same, regular supply day-in and day-out, the new German system is increasingly a dynamic, decentralized patchwork that includes more than two million small and medium-scale renewables producers — businesses, villages and towns, co-ops, individuals, green investment funds, and farmers — whose numbers grow by the month.Germany’s seven operational offshore parks constitute a tiny fraction — just 0.6 percent — of the country’s renewably generated electricity, compared to onshore wind’s 34 percent.The offshore industry claims there’s smooth sailing for offshore wind just around the corner, but it’s been saying that for years.Meanwhile, Desertec, which was envisioned as supplying 15 percent of all of Europe’s electricity by 2050, hasn’t contributed a single kilowatt to Europe’s power supply five years after its inception — and from the sound of more bad news recently — it may never.