Never before has so much electricity been generated from renewable energies as in 2023. So can the expansion rate continue so that Germany achieves its climate goals? tagesschau.de asked experts.
Germany wants to be emission-free by 2045 at the latest, and some cities and federal states are even planning to achieve climate neutrality five years earlier. A crucial step on the way there: the expansion of renewable energies.
“The share of renewable energies in the German electricity mix has never been as high as last year,” explained Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) at the beginning of the year. If expansion continues at this pace, Germany could achieve its climate protection goals in the energy sector by 2030.
More than half of the electricity comes from renewables
These look like this: The share of renewable energies in electricity consumption should be at least 80 percent. In the first half of last year it was already more than half. However, in order for the quota to come even closer to the target value, the production of renewable electricity must increase.
In 2023, the gross installed capacity of solar energy, wind energy on land and at sea, and biomass was 160,339 megawatts (around 160 gigawatts), according to the Federal Network Agency. This means they cover the equivalent of 56 percent of total electricity generation. For comparison: in 2022 there were almost 20 gigawatts less and ten years ago it was only around half.
In addition, according to the data, at least three of the four energy sources are above or at least on their necessary expansion path in order to achieve the goals set in the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). At first glance, last year was a success for the energy transition – but how do experts see it?
“It’s not enough at the back and front”
“2023 was a positive step – a lot happened,” emphasizes Andreas Löschel, Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics and Sustainability at the Ruhr University Bochum, in an interview with tagesschau.de. Not only has the number of installed systems increased, but also the number of permits, which are crucial for future commissioning. “We're making progress, but there's still a lot that needs to be done.”
“In principle, it is positive that renewable energies are being expanded more quickly than was the case in the past,” says Claudia Kemfert, energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). However, the development does not cause euphoria, as the pace of expansion is generally not yet high enough to achieve the climate goals by 2045.
Volker Quaschning, Professor of Renewable Energy Systems at the University of Technology and Economics in Berlin, sees it similarly: “The direction is right, but what we are currently developing in terms of renewable energies is not yet sufficient for the energy transition.” The federal government is making an effort, but it is still not a sure-fire success. “You have to continue to overcome all the hurdles,” emphasizes the expert.
Solar output has more than doubled since 2016
With regard to the two most important renewable energy sources – solar and onshore wind – the goals are actually still a long way off. For solar energy alone, the installed capacity is expected to be 215 gigawatts in 2030. According to the Federal Association of the Solar Industry (BSW), more than a million new solar systems were built to generate electricity and heat in 2023 – more than ever before.
To generate electricity from sunlight, systems with a peak output of around 14 gigawatts were then put into operation on roofs and open spaces. According to the Federal Network Agency, the expansion of installed capacity has more than doubled since 2016 – and is even above the EEG expansion targets.
“When it comes to solar energy, we are on the path we need to be on,” confirms expert Kemfert tagesschau.de. Nevertheless, huge potential on roofs is unused. “This affects both public and private buildings.” To achieve this, projects for citizen participation in solar systems would have to be promoted.
Dispute over open spaces also for solar?
“Solar energy has done really well; in 2015 we still had a newly installed capacity of 1.5 gigawatts,” says Quaschning. If Germany wants to comply with the Paris climate protection agreement, it would need more than 30 gigawatts per year. “But that is no longer in the realm of impossible.”
However, things could be going better in two segments in particular: apartment buildings and the commercial sector. Tenants should also benefit from cheap solar power. In addition, many medium-sized companies in particular have large halls available where systems can be installed.
But there is still a lot to come when it comes to open spaces, emphasizes expert Löschel. “For photovoltaics, almost as much space is required as for wind.” It remains to be seen whether this will lead to similar disputes in society. “The competition for the use of open spaces, but also the sheer volume of them, is not yet noticeable.”
“No big upswing” in wind energy
However, the picture for wind energy looks much worse, says Quaschning. “We are well below the expansion targets and the approval numbers don’t show much of an upswing either.” This is partly due to local resistance. The controversial distance rule still applies in Bavaria, and in Thuringia there was a general ban on wind turbines in the forest until recently. “If we continue to leave out a fifth of the federal territory as much as possible, we will not achieve our goals.”
According to the federal government's plans, the output of wind turbines is expected to more than double to 145 gigawatts by 2030 – 115 gigawatts of which will be on land. After all: According to the Federal Network Agency, a total of 1,464 new wind turbines were approved last year – so many approvals have not been granted since 2016.
“Numerous changes by the federal government have meant that wind energy is at least improving a little,” said Kemfert. On the one hand, this concerns legal clarity in nature conservation and, on the other hand, the mandatory expansion targets for the federal states and faster approval procedures. Nevertheless, in reality the numbers are not necessarily exciting.
Attractive Framework conditions and network expansion necessary
In all federal states combined, just 81 new onshore wind turbines were put into operation in 2023. “There is still a lot ahead of us and we are currently not achieving our expansion goals,” says Löschel. It is not yet clear how well the acceleration of approvals will develop in practice and whether two percent of Germany's area will be designated for wind energy by 2032, as enshrined in law.
“The economic conditions also play a role,” explains the professor of environmental and resource economics and sustainability. “In particular, the spatial incentives for expansion, for example in the south of Germany with less wind, are not yet suitable at the moment.” In order to stimulate investments, regional rather than national tenders and differentiated network fees make sense.
For expert Quaschning, the question also arises as to how the increased output of renewable energies can be sensibly integrated into the system. “There are still many construction sites that need to be resolved: from grid expansion to energy storage and reserve power plants.”