The Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Bavaria. Credit: Felix Koenig.
The Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Bavaria. Credit: Felix Koenig.

What Can We Learn From Germany’s Energy Policies?

Over the past several years, there has been a growing trend among some U.S. policymakers to look toward Europe – and specifically to Germany – as models for responsible energy and environmental policies that can and should be emulated by the U.S. Let’s take a closer look at what the Germans have recently been up to.

Today, residential electricity prices in Germany are nearly three times the average rate in the U.S. Furthermore, as many as 800,000 Germans have had their electricity turned off due to a growing inability to pay.

So why is this?

In 2011, Germany generated 25 percent of its energy from 17 nuclear reactors. After the Fukushima incident, however, Germany announced its intentions to phase out all nuclear energy by 2022. Well on their way to fulfilling this commitment, Germany now derives only 16 percent of its energy from eight reactors. Germany has also made efforts to expand the use of renewables, with just under one-quarter of its total energy output coming from wind, solar, biomass or hydropower.

With this decline in nuclear energy and the practical limitations of renewables, Germany is now turning to fossil fuels to pick up the slack. Today, nearly half of Germany’s energy output is derived from coal. What’s more, much of this coal has to be (expensively) imported given that German resources have largely been depleted or are even more costly to extract. Altogether, Germany is currently importing almost 63 percent of its energy, an all-time high for the country, which can mostly be attributed to the phase out of nuclear.

Much of these imported energy resources are coming from Russia. Germany now depends on Russia for 29 percent of its coal, 35 percent of its oil, and 39 percent of its natural gas. Given Russia’s ongoing military intervention in Ukraine, its human rights abuses, and other recent provocations, it may not be a good idea strategically for Germany – the world’s fourth largest economy and a committed NATO ally – to be so dependent on Russia for its energy resources.

Germany also has it as a goal to decrease its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent by 2020. An expert commission recently told the German Energy Minister the country must triple its current annual rate of decarbonization in order to meet this goal. How Germany will achieve this after eliminating its largest source of emissions-free energy remains to be seen.

Economically, German energy policy is hurting its citizens, who are struggling to afford rising energy prices. Environmentally, German energy policy will prevent the country from meeting its emissions reduction targets. From a geostrategic perspective, German energy policy has left its economy and allies exposed to potential Russian aggression. These are all lessons U.S. policymakers would be wise to note.

In Depth: Energy

It is difficult – and perhaps even impossible – to overstate the relationship between readily available access to safe, affordable and reliable energy and individual prosperity and economic wellbeing. This is because energy is an input to virtually everything we produce, consume and enjoy in society. Think for a minute…

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