Robert Habeck is speeding up the energy transition – but time is running out

New immediate climate measures
Habeck is speeding up the energy transition – but he is running out of time, say experts

Economics and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck

© Kay Nietfeld / DPA

Germany is not doing well in the fight against the climate crisis. The federal government has therefore announced a new immediate climate program. Some say ambitious, unfortunately others criticize very late.

The task was no less than “gigantic” announced Robert Habeck in his opening climate balance on Tuesday. On a large graphic, the newly appointed Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection showed how far Germany is currently from achieving its climate goals. Both the CO2 targets and the expansion of renewable energies are “well behind”. According to the special effects in the corona year, forecasts for 2021 anticipate “an increase in emissions of four percent” – there should be an annual reduction of around 40 million tons from 2021 to 2030. The trend is clearly going “in the wrong direction,” the minister said.

In order to still achieve the climate goals, Habeck wants to quickly launch two extensive immediate programs. The first is to be decided by the cabinet in April, the second to follow in the summer. In the expansion of wind and solar energy as well as in the building sector and in the transformation of industry, the Green politician wants to take not just one, but three steps. “We have to be three times better in all areas,” he said.

Expert: Inexpensive green electricity is important for transformation

Overall, the new climate plans have received positive feedback. Andreas Fischer, energy and climate researcher at the Institute of German Economy (IW) in Cologne, welcomed the goal, but above all warned to speed. In view of the scope of necessary investments and the associated planning and implementation, implementation by 2030 will be very scarce, Fischer said star. Energy economist Andreas Löschel from the Ruhr University Bochum sees the greatest urgency here, especially in electricity generation. The energy transition requires cheap green electricity in large quantities – this is the key to the transformation.

Renewable energies currently make up 42 percent of Germany’s electricity supply. This should increase to 80 percent by 2030. The expansion of wind and solar power therefore has top priority, emphasized Habeck, and planning and approval procedures are to be shortened. The energy experts Fischer and Löschel agree that the increase is technically feasible within eight years. According to Fischer, the sticking point here is primarily the time factor. Everything will depend on whether the government can eliminate the bottleneck “planning and approval processes” as planned.

The expansion of wind power is to be accelerated

As part of the immediate programs, the expansion of wind power – which Habeck referred to as the “packhorse of the energy transition” – is to be massively accelerated. So far, however, there are far too few designated areas for wind turbines in Germany. The plants should therefore take up two percent of the land area in Germany in the future, four times as much as before. So far, only Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein have come close to this target, says Habeck. Where overly restrictive distance rules prevented new buildings, “they can no longer exist,” the Green politician made clear and announced that talks with the countries would be swift.

The project met with criticism, especially from the CSU in Bavaria, which has one of the strictest distance regulations in the whole country. According to the so-called 10-H regulation, a wind turbine must be at least ten times its height from the nearest residential area. Habeck promised on Tuesday evening in the ARD program “Tagesthemen” that he would “go to Bavaria very quickly” and seek the conversation. For IW energy economist Fischer, on the other hand, the abolition of fixed minimum distances and special regulations, as in Bavaria, has long been a superfluous step. Wind was already the number one energy source in the German electricity mix in 2020 and will continue to be so in the future.

However, there is a dispute about the systems not only in Bavaria. “The devil is of course in the details,” said Habeck, referring to tensions in the population. Whenever wind turbines or power lines are being built, people would say: “That may all be all well and good, but please don’t be there, I always go for a walk with my Waldi on Sundays.” The Green Minister therefore wants to enter into an even stronger dialogue with the regions and people affected. Climate protection requirements must be made socially acceptable. At the same time, it should be emphasized that wind farms also bring economic advantages for the locations. There are always individual concerns, of course, but he hopes that society will also be able to jump over this “individual shadow of concern”.

Solar expansion: unused potential on the roofs

Another important component: Climate Protection Minister Habeck also wants to retrofit the photovoltaics properly. The installed capacity is to be increased to 200 gigawatts by 2030, i.e. more than threefold. As foreseen in the traffic light coalition agreement, solar power generation is to become mandatory in new commercial buildings and “the rule” in private new buildings. The energy economist Löschel sees this as an opportunity to tap the unused potential on the roofs, for example through significant improvements in tenant electricity. From 2023 onwards, the EEG surcharge, which customers have previously paid through the electricity bill, is to be financed through the federal budget. According to Habeck, this relieves an average household by 300 euros per year.

Since Germany is phasing out nuclear power by the end of 2022 and gradually phasing out coal in the coming years, new gas-fired power plants will initially be built as a “bridge technology”, Habeck admitted. However, it should later be possible to operate these power plants with hydrogen. This is the crucial point for energy and climate researchers Fischer, because it is a way of relying on a reliably controllable, but also climate-neutral component in the energy supply.

Mostly positive response for Robert Habeck

For the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Ottmar Edenhofer, a lot is going in the right direction, especially with the massive expansion of eco-energies. However, a market-based, increasing CO2 price with social compensation is needed quickly. “Because the necessary restructuring of our economy has to be paid for, one way or another,” warned the climate researcher star. “But it’s cheaper for everyone when the price of CO2 rises.”

Criticism of the costs also came from the opposition. Julia Klöckner, economic policy spokeswoman for the Union parliamentary group, criticized that in view of the massively rising costs for energy and climate protection, action must be taken immediately, not until 2023. “Otherwise there is an acute risk to the competitiveness of the business location and jobs in Germany.”

Overall, however, the new climate plans met with predominantly positive reactions. The Federal Association for Renewable Energy even spoke of a “new era” in energy and climate protection policy. Habeck recognized the urgent need for action in terms of climate protection and a sustainable business location, said association president Simone Peter on Tuesday. Greenpeace climate expert Lisa Göldner also said: “New departure is in the air.” Habeck is giving the ailing German energy transition an urgently needed “booster”.

What is certain is that with his opening balance one month after taking office, Habeck is cleverly keeping the high expectations of him in check. The planned measures must now be followed by action. Much will depend on how quickly investments are made and how plans are turned into reality. At the latest in the second part of the legislative period, he will have to be measured against it.

with DPA material / tkr

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