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Germany's Low Carbon and Energy Strategy Speech by Dr. Norbert Röttgen at the Side Event COP 17 Durban

Date: 07.12.2011
Location: Durban

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Far away from home the world can sometimes be a particularly wonderful place. And here in Durban is one of those times because Germany has been given an award. Our Deputy Director-General, Karsten Sach, accepted the award on my behalf (and deservedly so). Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, handed the award - a piece of coal set in glass - to Germany on behalf of the World Climate Summit, a major, informal economic summit on the fringes of the COP, to honour our accomplishments in expanding renewable energies, our achievements in increasing the renewables share in electricity consumption from 6.3 percent in 2000 to over 20 percent in 2011 and our policies that have made this increase possible.

Two days later we were honoured for the second time. On Tuesday Germanwatch gave us "cautious praise", as the agency report put it, and moved us from number 7 to number 6 on the new Climate Change Performance Index, just behind the UK and Sweden. In fact this is third place because the first 3 places are empty to reflect the fact that countries are not yet doing enough to limit global warming to 2°C.

This "cautious praise" is the result of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is also due to the Energy Concept we adopted in summer, which will lead Germany to the age of renewable energies. This move, in light of the Fukushima disaster, has met with a great deal of interest and recognition internationally. Germany, a major industrialised country, will phase out nuclear power by 2022 and gradually increase the share of renewables in electricity production so that by 2020 we will have a 35 percent share and by 2050 an 80 percent share. Many say that if we achieve this it will send an important signal and others will follow.

This is why we have decided to talk about our path to the renewables era at this German side event. Not because we want to talk others into following our path - that would be both arrogant and rash, considering we are only just starting along our path. No, we would like to explain that as well as being necessary from an ecological and climate policy perspective, this path also marks an economic growth strategy for Germany. We want to achieve economic success with climate protection. We want to build on our technological advantage and make market gains. We want to demonstrate that a major industrialised country can turn away from nuclear power, decouple growth from resource consumption, increase efficiency and be economically successful because of this approach, rather than in spite of it.

Climate protection, as everyone here knows, means tough negotiations on internationally binding targets. The long process of finding a political and economic balance for poor and rich countries can be compared to running a marathon, and it is one of the biggest political challenges facing the international community. We want this process, we are driving it forward with all our energy and contributing to it in a small way with today's event - but we cannot and must not wait for the process to lead to the success of a major agreement. Climate protection is also a matter of national policy. One success at the Cancun conference was the consensus that countries - newly industrialising countries in particular - should adopt green economy strategies to serve climate protection. Our green economy strategy is the Energy Concept.

Germany has developed a realistic energy strategy with its Energy Concept

In 2010, that is to say before the Fukushima disaster, the German government adopted its Energy Concept - a realistic strategy for transforming our energy system to a low-emission energy supply. After Fukushima, which gave us cause to fundamentally reassess our understanding of safety, we decided to speed up the implementation of the Energy Concept:

  • by phasing out nuclear power more quickly than originally planned
  • by accelerating the switch to renewables and expanding the necessary infrastructure and
  • by introducing a range of measures geared to a lasting increase in energy efficiency in all sectors.

As I said before - We are aiming to increase the share of renewables in electricity production to at least 80 percent by 2050.Energy efficiency is the key to secure and environmentally sound energy supply. We aim to reduce primary energy consumption by 50 percent by 2050 compared with 2008. We plan to double the rate of building modernisation, a key task of this century, from 1 to 2 percent per year. We also want to put 6 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, and to cut final energy consumption in the transport sector by around 40 percent by 2050.

In pursuing these goals we aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050 compared with 1990. In other words, it is a question of, firstly, expanding renewable energies to make them the main pillar of energy supply in a technologically advanced country. Secondly, increasing efficiency, especially in our homes and workplaces. And thirdly, a new form of mobility and transport.

Using and producing energy more intelligently

We want to expand renewable energies with all available technologies:

  • - wind energy, photovoltaics, biomass and hydropower.

We are talking about large-scale expansion and high investments. We attach particular importance to wind energy. It holds the greatest potential for a rapid expansion of renewable electricity production.

Our goal is to achieve 25,000 megawatts of installed offshore wind energy capacity in Germany by 2030. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this goal - the current level is only around 100 megawatts!In order to reach this ambitious target we need annual new capacities of up to 1,500 megawatts. This is equivalent to the installation of one wind turbine per day during the 'fair weather' season.

These investments will only be activated through incentives. The German government will therefore finance the first 10 wind farms through a special "Offshore Wind Energy" programme with a credit volume of 5 billion euros. In addition, we are creating the conditions needed to facilitate the replacement of old onshore wind turbines and ensuring speedier and more comprehensive designation of suitable sites for wind farms.

To a great degree, however, the success of renewables depends on new grids. We will therefore accelerate the expansion of the grid infrastructure. We need electricity highways equipped with modern grid technologies to transport large volumes of wind-generated electricity, with minimal losses, from the north of Germany to the economic centres in the west and south. We recently adopted a law to this effect.

Internationally, too, we must tread new paths. We need cluster connections for offshore wind farms, and we especially need to be linked up to our European neighbours. The wind is always blowing somewhere in Europe, and the sun is nearly always shining somewhere. But at present we do not have the infrastructure to allow larger volumes of electricity from renewables to be transported smoothly within Europe. Together, we must develop this infrastructure quickly. I am delighted that the European Commission sees establishing this infrastructure, and especially the power grids, as a key element for achieving our expansion targets for renewable energies.

But we will also make the grids more intelligent: we need smart grids. The days of the one-way street from power plant to consumer are over.

Consumers themselves are generating electricity. Energy sources are becoming more diverse. They must be harmonised more closely through computerised grid monitoring using interconnected smart meters. In this way we can introduce variable load management with smart terminals which can access power when it is cheapest. Real time electricity prices, graduated in line with demand, will then form the basis for operating decentralised electricity storage units and highly flexible power plants which enable electricity to be consumed when it is generated.

It is not just a question of grids, however, but also of storage technologies. Without these, the transformation of our energy supply will not succeed. Therefore, we will step up our research into new storage technologies. The range of technologies is impressive: compressed air storage, hydrogen storage, methane from hydrogen, batteries for electric vehicles. We want to support all these technologies so they can quickly achieve market maturity.

At the beginning, renewable energies need state support to become established. In Germany we ensured this support with our Renewable Energy Sources Act. Providers offering renewable electricity have priority and receive a fixed tariff. The costs are divided among all consumers through a surcharge. Concessions of around 10 billion euros per year are granted to energy-intensive industries in order to maintain their competitiveness. This system has proved very successful. It has already enabled us to achieve a renewables' share in the electricity supply of over 20 percent. This is five times higher than around just ten years ago! But to keep the costs of this surcharge - and hence energy costs - affordable for everyone, we need more market options and greater competition. We have therefore amended the law so that support reflects developments on the market. The aim is that eventually support will become unnecessary because the renewable technology is firmly established on the market.

Energy saving and more efficient use of energy

The careful and efficient use of energy is a characteristic of the new energy era. But managing energy efficiently does not simply mean switching the light off. It means focusing on efficiency technologies.Our homes and buildings hold tremendous potential. They account for around 40 percent of our energy consumption – and this is a huge saving potential.

Far too much energy is still wasted in this sector. We aim to double the annual modernisation rate for buildings from 1 to 2 percent. To this end, we are developing a long-term modernisation roadmap and providing substantial economic incentives with a building modernisation programme totalling 1.5 billion euros. This is also a major opportunity for growth and employment in the trade sector. Economists say that each euro invested by the state pays off eightfold.

But we also want to use energy more efficiently in our transport sector. We aim to put 6 million electric vehicles on Germany's roads by 2030 - powered by electricity from renewable energies. In the long term, the batteries for electric vehicles will also be used to store electricity from renewables and so help to balance fluctuating electricity generation, especially from solar and wind sources.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The main instruments of the transformation of our energy system are economic incentives - i.e. tax relief - and low-interest credits. The second pillar is planning and regulatory law. And thirdly, we support research. With this combination of measures, we are making concrete and swift progress in the energy transformation.

Only those who invest have prospects for the future

We must make major investments:
especially in new renewable energy technologies
in new high voltage transmission lines
in new storage technologies
in smart grids
in improved grid management.

Initially, we will certainly have to continue investing in fossil energy sources in order to compensate for the unpredictable generation from renewables. In terms of protecting the climate, gas is far better suited to this than coal. For this reason, we will first build highly efficient and flexible gas and steam power plants in the industrial centres of electricity demand. These installations have very low investment costs compared to other power plant types. Moreover, their planning and construction has a manageable timeframe of four to five years. They are also very efficient and can be built directly where the demand is. Gas-fired plants that can be powered up or shut down within minutes thus provide a supplementary fleet to balance the irregular feed-in of electricity from renewable energy installations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Of course, in the short term it would be cheaper to make do without all the investment. To simply keep what we already have instead of building new, highly efficient power plants and new smart power lines, or erecting installations in the North Sea. We could continue for another 5 or 10 years without modernisation and be satisfied with the current status of innovation. But those who do not invest have no future prospects. Business as usual offers neither ecological nor economic prospects.

The transformation of the energy system is a major joint national project

Transforming Germany's energy system is not just an important project for industry. It mobilises the whole of society. Perhaps that is the most fascinating aspect of this new path. We have an amazingly broad consensus: over 90 percent of people in Germany approve this course. Industry has long recognised the opportunities of the transformation. Science and research are working on innovations which are reported in the media almost every day. Local authorities are committed and are working to realise the vision of towns and cities which generate their own, renewable energy supply. People understand this opportunity for our society: to come together in a unique joint action and show by example that such a project can succeed for the first time in a leading, technologically advanced industrialised country.

But this opportunity is not only available to advanced industrialised countries. A study by the IPCC sets out the impressive technological potential of renewables throughout the world. Even today, renewables account for around 13 percent of global energy supply. With favourable conditions, by 2050 they could cover nearly 80 percent of demand. Incidentally, half of all the countries which support renewables at a political level are developing countries in all parts of the world. The major newly industrialising countries have also long acknowledged the potential of renewable energies. The special IPCC report also proves that the transformation of the energy system is affordable. The annual investments needed over the next ten years are estimated at less than 1 percent of global GDP.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is important that we do not view the looming shortage of resources as a threat to our economies. Instead we should consider it an opportunity to launch a transformation that makes further growth possible.This is a technological challenge. But perhaps, even more, it is a cultural challenge, as it is about accepting and wanting a new way of life; a new way of life guided by the principle of balance rather than solely by the principle of permanent increase. It is a question of recognising that the transformation from high-consumption economic practices and ways of life to resource-efficient ones is not a loss; in fact, it means a better quality of life.

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