Energiewende? Energy what?

ENVIRONMENT

Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago. (New York Times)

Use our resources to learn more about renewable energy.

An older iconic symbol of German technological innovation—the autobahn—meets a new one: the wind farm. Photograph by Usien, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

An older iconic symbol of German technological innovation—the autobahn—meets a new one: the wind farm.
Photograph by Usien, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Discussion Ideas

  • What is energiewende?
    • Energiewende (ihn-ur-GEE-vehnd-uh) is “energy transition.” The word refers to Germany’s organized, aggressive pursuit of greater reliance on renewable energy—mostly wind and solar. The “transition” is from reliance on fossil fuels—mostly coal and natural gas.
    • Take a look at this nifty site for more information on energiewende, including an overview of the technologies involved, the policy’s influence on other nations, and a neat glossary.

 

  • Energiewende embraces all forms of renewable energy—except one. What is the renewable energy source Germany is distancing itself from? Why?
    • Energiewende does not include nuclear energy, perhaps the most widespread and reliable renewable in the world. Read more about nuclear energy in our encyclopedic entry.
    • Germany began phasing out its nuclear power stations in 2007, but made the most serious commitment to reducing reliance on nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. (In 2011, the Tohoku tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The Fukushima nuclear disaster released toxic, radioactive materials into the environment and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and businesses. Read more about the disaster here.)

 

  • Don’t count out fossil fuels just yet. Why is Germany working to maintain some coal-fired power plants?
    • Coal is a reliable source of power, while most renewables are intermittent—most efficient only when the sun is shining brightly or the wind is blowing steadily. German businesses are working to improve the efficiency of renewables by investing in offshore projects, notably wind farms in the North Sea. Offshore winds are generally much stronger and more reliable than onshore winds. Read more about the intricacies of wind power here.
    • The economy—the coal industry is a big one in Germany, and a decline in use may threaten profits. Germany utilities are combating this by trying to enter the renewables market themselves, and lobbying the government to slow down energiewende to give them time to adjust.

 

  • How is energiewende an example of globalization? Use our glossary for a quick definition, or read through our encyclopedic entry for a broader view of the topic.
    • Energiewende “has implications far beyond its shores,” according to the New York Times.
      • Germany has created a demand for renewable energy technology and infrastructure, including wind turbines and solar panels. Chinese manufacturers have invested in producing these goods at a low cost, dominating the market. Western (mostly American) manufacturers have in turn accused the Chinese of unfairly flooding the market, not allowing other manufacturers to compete.
      • Energiewende has largely been a success, and used as a model for other regions. In the United States, for example, California has set much more ambitious goals for renewable energy use than the federal government demands. “California is aiming for 33 percent renewable power by 2020 and,” the NYT says, “seems increasingly likely to get there.”
      • Energiewende would reduce European (German) reliance on Russian natural gas. Take a look at this map to see how this would impact both Germany and Russia.

One response to “Energiewende? Energy what?

  1. Pingback: Who’s the Greenest of Them All? | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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