Energiewende – The German energy transition and lessons for India

If Germany can do that, why can’t we? A question which any renewable energy enthusiast will have to face during a serious discussion about the growth of renewables in our country. Yes, we are talking about energiewende- the German energy transition. In a recent round table conference about energiewende , the discussions were around the possibilities of such an energy transition in India with an emphasis on decentralized energy systems. In the light of above said discussions there is a dire need for deciphering the so called energy transition in order to create awareness and learn important lessons from the same. This discussion is expected to burst some myths about the German experience and hopes to do some brainstorming on the Indian possibilities on a similar scale.

About Energiewende

There is a popular misconception that energiewende started after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. But the truth is that Germany started this journey long back with concerted efforts in bringing renewable energy to the forefront. This is clearly evident from the various policies and legal frameworks which  evolved during these years. The transition scenario traces its roots to the strong anti-nuclear movement in the 1970’s; the oil crisis and a subsequent urge to move towards a sustainable energy framework. In the early 2000’s the advent of EEG act (Renewable energy act) and Feed-In- Tariff policies created a favourable environment for faster deployment of renewable energy technologies. But energiewende in its present form can be attributed to the programme involving the three goals of

  • Meeting one third renewables share in electricity by 2020
  • Reducing the energy consumption by one fifth
  • Reducing emissions drastically.

In some sense Germany has set ambitious targets way beyond the goals set by the European Union for its member countries. It is indeed appreciable that it has taken the lead in setting an example for other countries in case of demonstrating the viability of alternative energy systems.The energy transition story grabbed the limelight when it decided to phase out  nuclear plants accounting to 8.4 GW post Fukushima nuclear disaster and are in the process of closing another 12.5 GW by 2022. This aggressive move has resulted in an increased dependence on coal power plants to compliment for the increased penetration of renewables which are intermittent. Critics of energiewende have claimed and increase in emissions pointing towards long term impacts on the overall goals set by the country. So the overall effectiveness of the programme is still debatable and the ever increasing electricity bills for domestic consumers is a major concern. The tariff model of cross subsidization is a complete inversion of what we observe in India. In order to protect its strong industrial sector, the domestic consumers are charged high while industries are exempted from paying the surcharges. In addition to this there are criticism against the grid stability claims amidst the frequent black outs and outages which even talks about grid vulnerability in the neighbouring countries. 

table 2

India’s possible energy transition

Lessons from international best practices are of little use if we fail to consider the typical Indian scenarios for the energy sector. For a country where 300 million people still await reliable and affordable access to electricity, the priorities should be energy access and energy security rather than a low carbon growth. This doesn’t mean that we should follow a high emission path. But rather an approach of a perfect mix of decentralized and conventional systems that can reach out to the un-electrified villages seems to be appropriate for us. A  more coordinated approach of various government programmes and implementation agencies is expected at this juncture.In some sense it is desirable for Ministry of power to completely take charge of the ‘energy access’ sphere while the emphasis of renewable energy penetration can be vested on  MNRE so that there is no conflict of interest and multiplicity of schemes.

In Germany the grid has reached almost  every nook and corner of the country.Moreover they have enough and more generation capacity to meet their demands.We should be paying attention to  these two infrastructural issues while envisaging a proper energy transition.The recent debates surrounding grid extension V/s standalone systems become an important factor in this regard where prioritizing our goals would decide the success of such a programme. The urge to move towards a renewables based system should take into consideration all these aspects. In the end mere achievement of certain milestones won’t make any sense unless and until the large chunk of our population gets benefits out of it.

Strengthening of village electricity committees (remember in Germany  a large chunk of renewables is fed to the grid by village cooperatives), Grid infrastructure and institutional mechanisms thus becomes the initial steps to be taken in this regard.  The model of village electricity committees can serve as an important step in ensuring the dissemination of the benefits of electricity the poorest of the poor. This would include a proper coordination mechanism, policy support and institutional reforms at the Panchayath level.

Solar roof top systems are supposed to be one of the major determinants renewable energy revolution in the country. A proper framework with net metering policy would serve the development of rooftop systems which can actually form the backbone of such a massive energy transition. This coupled with proper energy efficiency measures or rather a complete DSM (Demand Side Management) based system is the best option for India.  Even after having a proper ‘Energy conservation Act‘, very little progress has been made in this sector which points out to an urgent need for revisiting our energy planning process. Its high time we focus on”Negawatts instead of Megawatts” as once quoted by Amory Lovins.

References:

The energy collective -http://theenergycollective.com/

The energy Transition-http://energytransition.de/

Bloomberg Energy-http://www.bloomberg.com/

 

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About felixvarghese

Chemical Engineer, Independent Analyst in Renewable Energy, Work experience with SELCO Foundation and Prayas energy group. Environment enthusiast and in love with renewable energy.
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