How Has the Russia-Ukraine War Impacted Germany’s Renewable Revolution?

The energy crisis fueled by Russia’s war against Ukraine is dealing a heavy blow to Europe’s biggest economy Germany, due to its large dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Policymakers, businesses and households alike are struggling to cope with skyrocketing prices, which are fanning fears of irreparable damages to the country’s prized industries, economic hardships for its citizens, and social unrest. The long-term impact on the country’s landmark energy transition remains uncertain, as Germany redoubles efforts to roll out renewables, but also bets on liquefied natural gas (LNG), a temporary revival of coal plants and a limited runtime extension for its remaining nuclear plants to weather the storm. This article provides an overview of the state of play of Germany’s shift to climate neutrality, which is now dominated by its response to the crisis. It will be updated regularly. [UPDATE: Government earmarks 83 billion euros for gas and power price subsidies.]

What’s the energy crisis’ impact on the economy and households?

+ The energy crisis is set to push Germany into a recession, as rising energy prices put a damper on industrial production and inflation means citizens will buy less. Both the government and the country’s leading economic research institutes expect the economy to shrink in 2023. The government forecasts an inflation rate of 8 percent in 2022, and 7 percent in 2023.

+ Many German industrial companies have relied on cheap Russian pipeline gas, among them key producers of basic materials needed for many other products. These firms are particularly concerned about the energy crisis, as permanently higher gas prices threaten competitiveness and long-term survival.

+ The government has launched massive relief packages for citizens and companies (see below). Without these, many households would face additional energy costs running into thousands of euros per year, with retail gas prices multiplying for many citizens, and retail power prices also rising steeply.

+ Policymakers, consumer protection groups, and social care services have warned that the energy price hike could result in social hardships and even unrest if households are overburdened. But so far, protests have remained limited in scope and scale, and mainly limited to regions notorious for their rejection of government policies.

+ Most citizens blame the energy price hike on external factors such as the pandemic and the war on Ukraine, and generally approve of the government’s handling of the crisis, according to surveys. They also say that they are ready to contribute to energy savings. But rising prices have become the biggest concern for a vast majority of the population.

How has the government responded?

+ Germany has responded to the crisis with a whole series of relief packages for households and businesses, which have continuously grown in size and scope. The government presented a 200-bln euro “defence shield in September, which includes plans for reducing gas and electricity prices at a projected cost of 83 billion euros. Previously, it had already earmarked about 95 billion euros in support funds, spread out in three relief programmes, which included petrol tax cuts, a 9-euro flat-rate ticket for public transport, and a temporary freeze of the CO2-price for transport and buildings, which was meant to rise in early 2023.

+ The government urged citizens to save energyordered savings in public institutions, and helped to fill gas storages in order to avoid shortfalls in the winter. [The grid agency provides daily updates on the current status of Germany’s gas supply.]

+ To bring down the use of gas power plants, the country is temporarily reviving coal units that had already been retired, or were earmarked for decommissioning.

+ The country will also postpone its exit from nuclear energy by around three months, by keeping its remaining three operating nuclear plants on the grid until April 2023.

+ Germany is going full steam ahead in building up its own import infrastructure for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and increase trading or make new deals with other suppliers in order to replace Russian pipeline gas.

How will the crisis affect Germany’s shift to climate neutrality?

+ Many experts and the government hope that while the crisis might result in a short-term increase in emissions, it will ultimately speed up the energy transition. Germany’s overall energy transition and emission reduction targets remain in place.

+ The war has re-energized efforts to shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables, which have been dubbed “freedom energies” because they allow the country a greater degree of independence from Russia. But the increase in raw material and financing costs also threatens to slow the renewables roll-out, as investors become more reluctant.

+ Despite the short-term increase of coal use, the government is still planning to pull the country’s coal exit forward, “ideally” to 2030, from the currently legislated end date of 2038. However, while some coal regions have committed to the 2030 phase-out goal, others have said an early exit is too ambitious.

+ Environmentalists warn the government’s large LNG infrastructure investments could cement fossil-fuel dependency.

+ German industry has said it plans to stick to its existing decarbonisation targets despite the challenges posed by the energy crisis.

+ Household demand for low emission heating systems such as heat pumps has risen strongly in response to the crisis, challenging the dominance of gas-fired heating systems in German homes.

What’s the overall status of Germany’s energy transition?

+ There is a broad consensus among policymakers, businesses, and climate activists that speeding up the rollout of renewables must currently be Germany’s top priority to advance the energy transition, because they will also be key to electrifying other sectors such as transport and heating, and the country’s plans for a hydrogen economy.

+ Renewables provided 49 percent of Germany’s electricity in the first half of 2022, but total emissions are forecast to rise slightly this year because of higher coal use.

+ There are concerns that a lack of skilled workers will become a major obstacle to rapid energy transition progress.

For more details, see the factsheets Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and energy transition targetsand Germany’s energy consumption and power mix in charts.

This article was first published by Clean Energy Wire. It is available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)”