The German Energiewende - the task of the century #2017plus

Event: Sustainable Growth Model

Photo: Blumenfeld II/

There has been a worldwide discussion on an energy transition to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and halt the feared rise in temperature. It involves replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources such as wind, sun, water, and biomass. Efforts in this direction have been made in many countries.

Particular progress has been made in Germany, which has shown that success can be achieved but also what problems have to be overcome. The German energy transition (“Energiewende”) aims not only to reduce the use of fossil fuels but also to phase out nuclear energy with its risks and radioactive waste. These goals are ambitious, which is why the German project attracted a great deal of attention around the world. The backbone of this project, the Renewable Energy Act, which regulates the development of renewable energy sources, has already been emulated in 65 countries.

Video: What is the "Energiewende"?

Watch the video (, English)

Watch the video (, Chinese/中文)

Watch the video (, Chinese/中文)

On 11 May 2014, renewable energies briefly managed to meet 80 per cent of the German demand for power – a record to date. Overall, 2014 was a record year for renewables in Germany. For the first time, more than 27 per cent of the demand for electricity was met by sun, wind, water, and biomass. Despite these achievements, the Energiewende has not been a smooth process. It involves nothing less than converting the energy system of an industrial society. But a comprehensive explanation of the energy transition that goes beyond mere statistics and technology requires the consideration of the economic, societal, and political context in which the relevant decisions are made. How has the energy transition actually proceeded? What milestones have been reached? Who and what has driven the process? What interests have been pursued and how have they changed? Are there historical precedents?

The energy transition is not a new phenomenon

These are the questions addressed by the author of the study, Franz-Josef Brüggemeier of the Albert Ludwig University, Freiburg. He explains that the energy transition not only has to reconcile the three key aspects of energy policy, namely supply security, cost-effectiveness, and environmental compatibility, but also to take into account a whole range of political, economic, and technological challenges, solutions, and interests. In his historical analysis, Brüggemeier shows that the implementation of the energy transition has always required a complex compromise that balances various interests.

He points to the leading role of social democracy as a social and political movement in shaping the energy transition. Unlike other political movements, it has not only been traditionally close to the energy sector, industry, and the workforce, but has also produced important visionaries and pioneers of the energy transition. In pursuing the complicated balance between the interests of winners and losers, a frustrating process for many of those involved, social democracy has given impetus to the energy transition as a process of social and economic modernization. In the future, this balance will be a crucial element in the development of the energy transition, and its achievement a key task for social democracy.


"Sun, Water, Wind: Development of the Energy Transition in Germany" by Prof Franz-Josef Brüggemeier:

Related Event

In March 2016, Prof Brüggemeier visited Shanghai and Beijing and held a series of lectures on the development of the German Energy Transition. Read more...

Good society - social democracy #2017plus (More information)

Publication and video are part of the of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’s project “Good Society social democracy #2017plus”. The 2017plus project raises the question of what constitutes a Good Society.

For the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung this includes social justice, environmental sustainability, an innovative and successful economy and an active dialogue. The Good Society is supported by the fundamental values of freedom, justice and solidarity. We need new ideas and concepts to ensure that the Good Society will become reality. For these reasons the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung is developing specific policy recommendations for the coming years. The focus rests on the following topics:

  • A debate about the fundamental values: freedom, justice and solidarity;
  • Democratic participation;
  • New growth and a proactive economic and financial policy;
  • Decent work and social progress.

The Good Society does not simply evolve; it has to be continuously shaped by all of us. For this project the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung uses its international network with the intention to combine German, European and international perspectives. With numerous publications and events between 2015 and 2017 the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung will concentrate on the task of outlining the way to a Good Society. For more information on the project: (only in German).

Go back