Lectures: Development of the Energy Transition in Germany

Event: Sustainable Growth Model

During a China visit in March 2016, Prof Dr Franz-Josef Brüggemeier gave a series of lectures and participated in round-table discussions at several academic institutions in Shanghai and Beijing on the development and challenges of the German energy transition (“Energiewende”).

Franz-Josef Brüggemeier is a professor at the Depart­ment of Economic, Social and Environmental History at the Albert-Ludwig-University in Freiburg, Germany. He is the author of the report "Sun, Water, Wind: Development of the Energy Transition in Germany" which was published by FES in the context of the project "good society – social democracy #2017plus". (For more information see here: http://fes-china.org/en/2017plus.html)

In Shanghai, he visited the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the Department of Urban and Regional Sciences at East China Normal University (March 28th), as well as the Shanghai Administration Institute and University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (March 29th).

He started his talks by outlining that the current energy transition was a large-scale and ambitious overhaul of the country’s entire energy system and that it is hoped to achieve a significant reduction of Germany’s carbon emissions and energy consumption, as well as an increased share of renewables in the energy mix while phasing out nuclear power in the near term.

Prof Brüggemeier traced the origins of the German Energiewende to several milestones, the most important of which was the Renewable Energy Act of the Social Democrat/Green government in the early 2000s. It marked the beginning of a period during which the production of electricity from renewable sources rapidly increased while prices fell steeply. From the mid-2000s, these developments lead to a significant increase of renewables in the energy mix, kick-starting the German energy transition in earnest. The accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, Brüggemeier explained, shored up further support among the public for phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear power, emboldening politicians to tackle existing and emerging challenges of the energy transition head-on.

Group picture at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST) with the directors of the German Center for Cultural Exchange Prof Zhou Weidong and Prof Thomas Zimmer (on the left).
At the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST)

Prof Brüggemeier emphasised that besides the main objectives mentioned above, other important considerations for achieving a successful and sustainable transformation were supply security, cost-effectiveness, and environmental compatibility.

During the discussions, several Chinese participants asked about the phase-out of nuclear power, particularly as it made the goal of CO2-reduction harder to achieve. Among the reasons for this, Prof Brüggemeier explained, was the lasting socio-political impact of the environmental and anti-nuclear movements of the 1980s as well as the memory of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the widespread belief that nuclear power was fundamentally unsafe. These were also the reasons why despite many unresolved technical, financial and socio-political challenges of the energy transition, Germans by and large support this difficult, onerous and long-term undertaking.

During his stay in Beijing (March 31st, April 1st) Prof Franz-Josef Brüggemeier conducted two roundtable discussions and talks with several partners of FES Beijing.

On March 31st, FES Beijing had organized a roundtable discussion at the Institute for Science and Development of the Chinese Academy of Sciences on the topic of the German energy transition and possible implications for China’s environmental and energy policy. Following Prof Brüggemeier’s presentation and the comments of Prof Wang Yi, (Vice-President of the Institute for Science and Development of China Academy of Sciences), Prof Dr Xu Jintao (China Center for Energy and Development at Peking University) and Prof Dr Li Junfeng (Director General at the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation of the National Development and Reform Commission), a lively discussion with the participating fifteen Chinese scholars ensued.

During the discussion, diverse aspects of energy transitions were broached, such as legal provisions, questions of financing, perspectives in research and technology, advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power as well as incentives for economic actors and individuals in Germany and China to engage in the process.

On April 1st, Prof Brüggemeier took part in a roundtable discussion organized by the China Association for International Understanding (CAFIU) and FES. Among the participants were two other experts holding presentations on China-related energy and environmental issues: Prof Dr Li Hengyuan (former Director General of the Dept. of Policies and Regulations at the Ministry of Environmental Protection) talked about the development of environmental protection and energy policies in China, and Prof Dr Zhai Kun (School of International Studies at Peking University) held a presentation on the international dimension of energy policy and the possibilities of cooperation along the Silk Road.

As in Shanghai, the German phasing-out of nuclear energy attracted interest during the discussion. Will Germany’s energy security be ensured? How will Germany cope with the uncertainty of the availability of renewables? And is the whole policy at all useful, if other countries such as France and Britain are continuing to use nuclear power? The pro and cons of those and other questions were assessed during the event.

Prof Brüggemeier also met with Felix Lee, foreign correspondent for the German newspaper taz and Zeit-Online, to discuss current economic and environmental developments and perspectives in China and Germany and with Ms. Xu Nan (Senior Policy Analyst at the Research Center for Climate and Energy Finance, Central University of Finance and Economics), to exchange views on current developments in the Chinese and German energy and climate policy.

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