The Energiewende is widely associated with German chancellor Angela Merkel. However, her government’s 2010 “Energiekonzept” (energy strategy) makes no mention of the word.
In fact, the term Energiewende emerged in the late 1970s as part of the anti-nuclear movement.
Only after the post-Fukushima decision to speed up Germany’s nuclear phaseout did Merkel claim the Energiewende as her own, in a classic political manoeuvre that co-opted her opponents’ ideas. It was later adopted as the official nomenclature for Germany’s wider climate and energy strategy.
You can explore a detailed history of the Energiewende by scrolling through our interactive, 28-frame timeline, above, spanning 1971 to 2016.
The word was popularised in a 1980 book, titled “Energiewende: Wachstum und Wohlstand ohne Erdöl und Uran” (Energy Transition: Growth and Prosperity Without Oil and Uranium). The book’s title makes its priorities clear.
In 2014, Germany launched a nationwide crowdsourcing effort to find ways to get its climate and energy targets back on track. The process has fed into a draft Klimaschutzplan 2050 (climate protection plan) that was due to have been agreed by the cabinet this summer (see timeline).
However, on 21 June 2016, the German Ministry for the Environment (BMUB) said it needed more time to work on the proposals for reaching carbon neutrality by mid-century. The German cabinet is not now expected to finalise the plan before October 2016, reports Der Spiegel.
Within Germany, one of the most contentious elements is a coal phaseout. A 2045 or 2050 target has been dropped from the draft plan, with any decision now unlikely before the 2017 election. A leaked memo from the chancellery calls phaseout “politically controversial”.
The lack of agreement over a coal phaseout is in stark contrast to the cross-party consensus on nuclear. Despite the challenge it poses to the country’s climate goals, Germans appear steadfast in their support for the 2022 nuclear phaseout.
Meanwhile, on 12 August 2016 Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) launched a green paper on making “energy efficiency first” the guiding principle of the Energiewende – just as the concept’s originators intended.
The paper admits that Germany’s wider climate and energy targets will be missed without new policies and looks for ways to enhance efficiency. It follows the allocation of €17bn for efficiency measures between 2017 and 2020, as well as a publicity offensive on efficiency launched in May.
Other parts of Germany’s draft 2050 climate plan, including sectoral emissions targets, have been weakened after facing industry pushback.
Officials in Germany’s environment ministry admit “the transport sector is worrying us” because its emissions are rising. At an event in March 2016, foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “we need to change our mobility radically for the future”.
Rainer Baake, the state secretary for economic affairs and energy, said at the same event that transport had to be zero emissions by 2050. Yet in August 2016, the transport ministry said the Autobahn remains the “backbone” of mobility, allocating more money to roads than to any other transport mode.
Car firms are a major industry for the country. Daimler, Volkswagen, Porsche and BMW all have, or will soon launch electric cars. VW’s chief executive has spoken of the end of diesel. The firms are also exploring new business models including car-sharing services.
On the other hand, emissions are increasing and a target to get one million electric cars on the road by 2020 looks a long way from being met. A new electric car subsidy, introduced in May, has so far attracted very few buyers.
The deeper question for Germany is whether its 2050 plan can present a positive case for its economy-wide, low-carbon transformation. Arguably, one of the greatest successes of the Energiewende is its public popularity, consistently reflected in opinion polls.
Even if it means different things to different people, it still offers some sense of shared vision and purpose. The UK, for one, lacks this common reference point.
Around the world, there are attempts to make a case for climate action emphasising opportunities rather than threats and innovative new business opportunities rather than onerous targets.