How the Ukraine conflict is hastening Germany’s switch to renewable energy

Climate Energy

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, Germany was confronted with an uncomfortable reality: Russia is Germany’s primary energy source, supplying more than half of the country’s natural gas and coal, as well as a third of its crude oil. Germany gives Russia almost $200 million every day in exchange, money that is currently being used to fund an invasion that Germans consider unbearable.

Last month, Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister and also a leader of the Green Party, which formed a coalition government with Prime Minister Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats last fall, promised that Germany would stop importing Russian oil by the end of 2022 and wean itself off Russian natural gas as quickly as possible. In the short term, this could entail looking for alternate fossil fuel supplies, such as the United States.

In the long run, however, the crisis has only strengthened Germany’s resolve to completely phase out fossil fuels and speed the Energiewende, the country’s clean-energy transition that began 30 years ago. The government has revealed intentions to phase out coal completely by 2030, 8 years earlier than the previous administration’s goal. It now wants Germany to obtain 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2021, up from the previous goal of 65 percent, and nearly double the 42 percent it provided in 2021.

Renewable energy subsidies would be increased, and red tape that has hindered such ventures in the past would be reduced, under a package of laws introduced last month and anticipated to pass this summer.

“What has changed now is that everyone understands we need to build up renewable capacity even faster,” says Matthias Buck, who works at Agora Energiewende, an energy transition think tank as the Europe director. “The conflict is demonstrating that if you really want to control your own destiny, you should prioritize renewables and reduce your reliance on fossil fuels.”

Germany isn’t alone: France, which has long relied on nuclear power for 70% of its energy, has promised a huge push for renewables. French President Emmanuel Macron promised during his 2017 re-election campaign that France will be “the first big nation to renounce gas, oil, and coal.” Austria, which is even more reliant on Russian energy than Germany, is investing heavily in renewable energy subsidies. Even Poland, which consumes a lot of coal, is investing extensively in offshore wind.

In Germany, the Ukraine conflict has introduced an energy security rationale to the climate catastrophe to persuade Germans of the urgent necessity for an Energiewende. “We’ve come a long way, but not quite far enough,” says Kathrin Henneberger, who is a Green Party parliamentarian and longtime climate campaigner.

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