24.–26.05.2023 #polismobility

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In conversation with Prof. Claudia Kemfert, Head of the Energy, Transport, Environment Department at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin).

Claudia Kemfert is Professor of Energy Economics and Energy Policy at Leuphana University. © Roland Horn

Claudia Kemfert is Professor of Energy Economics and Energy Policy at Leuphana University. © Roland Horn

The Neckarwestheim 2 and Isar 2 nuclear power plants are to remain in reserve until April 2023 and be ramped up in an emergency, while Emsland is to be shut down by the end of 2022. The operator of the Isar 2 plant, PreussenElektra, considers the emergency reserve plans of Economics Minister Robert Habeck to be technically unfeasible. Moreover, France is dependent on German electricity and has not even ruled out blackouts for the winter. How do you assess the plans for the emergency reserve? What market reactions and dynamics are conceivable against the background of this situation?

Nuclear power is not helping in the current crisis. The stress tests show that even in the most extreme scenario - which, incidentally, also has an extremely improbable probability of occurrence - nuclear power can only contribute to 0.5 GW of relief, i.e. less than one percent can provide relief in the power system. Much more important are grid reserves, load management, and the use of renewables along with flexibilities. About half of the gas-fired power plants currently in operation produce heat as well as electricity. Nuclear power plants don't help here. On the price of electricity, the use of nuclear power plants has only a very small price-dampening effect. The cost of providing nuclear power in the grid reserve is enormous, because the Atomic Energy Act has to be amended, personnel has to be kept on hand, safety inspections have to be carried out, and so on. The return is low. It is unlikely that - as the stress tests assume - a large part of the French nuclear power plants will still be off the grid by winter, that there will be little rain in Germany, and that electricity demand will increase exorbitantly. For that reason, I think it's unlikely, and therefore unnecessary, that nuclear plants will run longer than the end of the year. And that - hopefully - finally settles the issue.

Energy costs for both heat and electricity are skyrocketing. The EU Commission has announced its intention to reform the electricity market. Instead of intervening in the electricity market, i.e. more specifically instead of decoupling the price of electricity from the price of gas, you are arguing for an increase in the supply of electricity, i.e. the amount of electricity, through the expansion of renewable energies and storage options, as well as for energy conservation in order to reduce demand and thus prices. Why do you think decoupling is the wrong instrument?

We currently have an electricity crisis in Europe. Triggered primarily by the fact that more than half of the nuclear power plants in France are not on the grid, for technical reasons and because of climate change. Gas-fired power plants in Germany are currently producing electricity for the French. In such a crisis, the supply should be expanded and the use of gas-fired power plants should become obsolete. This can be achieved primarily through faster expansion of renewables, flexibility options such as storage or load management, and electricity conservation. Simply decoupling the price of gas from the price of electricity may exacerbate the crisis. On the one hand, it acts as a quasi electricity price cap, which is an indirect subsidy for electricity consumption. For another, it doesn't help on the supply side.

What can effective energy- and load management look like?

By focusing much more on flexibility, digitization and intelligence. Virtual power plants combine all renewable energies together with storage and other flexibility options. An intelligent decentralized grid ensures that no energy is wasted and is optimized. Instead of shutting down wind energy or PV, storage facilities should be used immediately. But above all, renewable energies must be expanded everywhere in Germany - including and especially in the south.

By 2030, at least 80% of gross electricity consumption is to be covered by renewable energies. Wind and solar energy must be expanded three times faster than before. Is this target tenable? In view of the current situation, would we even have to go faster?

Absolutely! We urgently need an expansion booster for all renewable energies throughout Germany. Companies need to relocate, Germany and Europe should purchase PV modules in an emergency program. Approval procedures need to be streamlined and accelerated. If we can build liquefied natural gas terminals in this country in four months, the same should be possible for the construction of wind turbines. If you want to, there are ways. If you don't want to, there are reasons.

How can the expansion of renewable energies be accelerated? What do you think is needed here on the part of politics, industry and society? Do you still see the Renewable Energies Act as an effective instrument for expanding renewable energies?

A variety of measures are necessary to accelerate the expansion of renewable energies. Policymakers must continue to improve the framework conditions and have taken many important steps in the right direction with the Easter package. The main issues are the designation of sufficient areas for wind energy in each federal state, the simplification of approval and planning procedures. The expansion rates for renewable energies must be significantly increased. Further adjustments are also needed in the area of solar energy. The costly certification of solar energy should be made easier and the limit raised to at least 500 kW, and approval procedures should be accelerated and unnecessary tax or technical barriers abolished. Biomass can also be better utilized, as can hydropower. Existing storage facilities also have market disadvantages due to unnecessary levies, and these should be abolished.

What do you think is realistically feasible in the short to medium term to ease the situation? What role does LNG play here?

It would be much more affordable and feasible if the political will is there. LNG terminals are only needed for the transition for the next two to three years, so floating terminals are quite sufficient, not fixed ones that transport environmentally and climate-damaging gas to Germany by 2039. If we take the climate targets seriously, we will have to phase out fossil natural gas as soon as possible.

The net addition of newly installed wind turbines in 2021 was at a relatively low level of 1,677 MW, and total output grew by only three percent year-on-year. In the first half of 2022, about 14% more electricity was generated from renewables than in the first six months of the previous year. According to initial estimates by the Working Group on Renewable Energy Statistics (AGEEStat), the share of renewable energies in gross electricity consumption was thus around 49 %. Last year, however, after continuous growth in previous years, electricity generation from renewables fell significantly due to weather conditions - around seven percent less than in 2020, for example. In your view, what is needed to ensure that the goal of climate-neutral energy generation and security of supply can be achieved even with weather-related fluctuations?

A significantly faster expansion of wind energy will be necessary, and this will not be achieved by enabling distance rules. Wind spacing rules are counterproductive, regardless of where they are applied, and should not be made possible as a matter of principle, since they have the effect of inhibiting expansion. Enabling wind spacing rules is not compatible with citizens' interests; financial participation models, such as those introduced in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, would be better suited for this purpose. However, there is no legally uniform regulation for this; the federal government should enable this and make it binding at the federal level. In addition, the financial support via the tenders should be adapted in the direction of system efficiency and storage. Efficient wind turbines should also be built in low-wind regions in Germany. And the approval procedures must be significantly simplified.

The mobility revolution also depends to a considerable extent on the energy transition. Given the current circumstances, is the target of 15 million electric vehicles by 2030 achievable?

The high prices for gasoline and diesel are making electromobility even more attractive. It is important that the charging infrastructure is expanded quickly and that renewable energies produce more electricity quickly. However, the traffic turnaround does not exclusively mean replacing an engine, moving away from gasoline and diesel to electric. The traffic turnaround means traffic avoidance, optimization and modal shift. We need significantly more mobility services, close integration of cycling, walking, public transport and rail, and electric vehicles.

What market changes do you think we will see in the energy sector as a result of the ramp-up of electromobility?

Electric vehicles are more efficient than gasoline and diesel vehicles and require less primary energy consumption. Electricity demand will increase, and in the course of the energy transition, renewable energies will be expanded faster and more. Green electricity can be combined well with electromobility. Electromobility is an important component in the course of the energy transition and transport transition.

What potential do you attribute to electric cars as storage devices in the context of the energy transition?

The batteries of electric vehicles can also be an important component in relieving the decentralized grids. Digitization and intelligent energy and load management can likewise help electric vehicles flow into the system in an optimized way. In this way, energy waste can be avoided, centralized grids can be relieved, and storage potential can also be leveraged. A real win-win-win situation.


Claudia Kemfert is Professor of Energy Economics and Energy Policy at Leuphana University. © Roland Horn

© Roland Horn

has headed the Energy, Transport, Environment Department at DIW Berlin since 2004 and is Professor of Energy Economics and Energy Policy at Leuphana University. Claudia Kemfert was appointed to the German Advisory Council on the Environment at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety in 2016; she was an advisor to EU President José Manuel Barroso and serves on advisory boards of various research institutions as well as federal and state ministries and the EU Commission. Since 2011, she has been a member of the Presidium of the German Association of the Club of Rome.


Csilla Letay