Germany: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

This article was updated on 24th October 2018.

Welcome to Germany

Germany has a diverse range of ecosystems: coastlines along the Baltic and North seas, fertile plains, highlands, forests, and the mountainous Alps in the southern part of the country. Despite being surrounded by an array of breathtaking ecosystems and scenery, Germans tend to live in urban areas, with around 86 percent of the population living in cities and have a population density of approximately 583/per square, ranking 58th globally. Germany also has one of the lowest birthrates in the world.

With a population of 82,293,457 (2018 estimate), it is the 17th most populated country in the world and the most populous state of the European Union (62nd in the world). Second only to the United States, Germany is also a very popular destination for migrants. Four years after the Second World War, Germany was effectively split in two – West Germany and East Germany – eventually being officially reunited on October 3, 1990.

Germany's climate can be described as a temperate seasonal climate and it is dominated by humid westerly winds. The Northern extension of the Gulf Stream, the North Atlantic Drift, moderates Germany's climate and as a result the north and northwest coastal regions have an oceanic climate.

Environmental Issues of Germany

Like many industrialized nations, Germany has a significant air pollution problem, but unlike other Western countries it has worsened in recent years.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government adopted a policy of phasing out the country’s nuclear power plants. To do so, the government allowed for utilities to burn more coal and as a result, the air pollution levels in 2012 and 2013 were two of the highest since the 1980s.

Nuclear power plant in Grohnde near Hameln in Lower Saxony, Germany.
Image credit: Thorsten Schier / Shutterstock.com

In addition to air pollution, decades of open-cast mining in East Germany has resulted in significant water pollution in some rivers. During mining days, the areas around the mine were drain of water, but now that the mines are no longer in operation – water levels have risen and caused a brown sludge to start filling up the Spree River, killing wildlife in the popular tourist attraction and UNESCO biosphere reserve.

According to a 2018 pole by Statista, 36% of respondents believed that global warming was the most important environmental issue facing Germany today. Future energy sources and air pollution came a close second and third with 30% and 27% respectively.

One of the largest environmental topics of discussion in 2018 is the legal battle between Germany’s main energy provider, RWE and BUND, a German environment non-profit trying to defend the Hambach forest. Approximately 37% of the country’s electricity is generated by lignite coal though the country is attempting to replace this need with renewable energy. The Hambach forest is 12000 years old and has been slowly destroyed, leaving on 300 hectares remaining.

The mining company need to expand lignite mining into the forest area in order to need coal energy needs of the ever-growing populations for the coming years, however this would mean sacrificing yet another portion of a significantly declining forest.

The Paris Climate Agreement has a specific article on the protection of forests, and Germany plays a lead role in helping developing countries to save forests in the tropics. It sends wrong signals in this context if forests at home are replaced by coal mining.

Tim Christophersen, UN Environment Forests and Landscapes Expert.

The verdict of the lawsuit has yet to be released but would mark a significant turning point for the coal industry if RWE are denied.

Environmental Policies of Germany

Germany, like the rest of the world, faces the consequences of global warming and the country has been one of the global leaders in battling carbon emissions.

One effort involves the increasing the efficiency of the use of resources. The German government has set a goal of trying to use fewer resources while maintaining the same amount of prosperity and according to a 2014 report, efficient use of raw materials in 2020 is expected to be double that of 1994.

Germany's Renewable Energy Revolution
Video credit: Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) / YouTube

The Germany government has also aggressively pursued the implementation of renewable energy production. In 2013, 12 percent of final energy consumption came from renewable energy sources, according to the European Environmental Agency. Renewables also accounted for 9.1 percent of heat and 5.5 percent of fuel consumption.

Germany also made headlines in 2015 when its cabinet passed some of the strictest standards in the world for fracking. Some observers say if the law passes German parliament, it could set the stage for a nationwide fracking ban.

In Germany, over 330,000 people work in the renewable energy sector and that is expected to increase over the next decade or so. The Kohleausstiegskommission (Coal Exit Commission) will report by December 2018 on how soon Germany will stop using coal to produce electricity all together.

Clean Technology in Germany

Germany is often mentioned among the world leaders in clean technology and according to the United Nations Framework for Climate Change, the number of German clean technology patents more than tripled between 2007 and 2013. The UNFCC said the spike in German innovation is largely driven by the country’s Renewable Energy Act, which includes tariffs specifically for clean technology.

The country is currently embracing its Energiewende, or "energy turn,” policy as it tries to position itself as a future provider of renewable energy technology to the rest of the world.

Solar power plant under construction in Germany, Saxony, near Gera.
Image credit: anyaivanova / Shutterstock.com

Solar energy makes up a large part of Germanys renewable push, responsible for more than 900 patents in 2013. German innovators are pursuing two types of solar energy: conventional photovoltaics and concentrated solar power (CSP). As the name implies, CSP involves using mirrors atop a tower to bundle together the sun’s rays on a single, central receiver. The technology generates heat, which can either be stored or used to create electricity through a standard turbine. Germany has been known to be able to provide 100% of the country’s daily need through clean energy alone.

Germans are also intently focus on wind power innovation, with 800 patents in 2013. These patents involve aspects of rotor blades, integration into the grid, offshore wind farms and electricity storage. Wind power is Germany’s second largest electricity source and contributes to approximately 19% of their energy generation. In December 2017, Germany’s power prices went negative, meaning that consumers were paid to use it due to low demands and unprecedented strong winds.

A Clean Future?

Germany clean tech innovation took a significant downturn in 2013 due to economic forces, signifying the importance of a healthy economy when it comes to clean technology. In keeping with this relationship, the prospects of a clean future for Germany are somewhat tied to the overall health of the Eurozone.

However, consulting firm Roland Berger Strategy Consultants has projected green technologies to comprise 14 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product by 2020.

In 2017, Germany was able to generate 36% of it’s electricity with clean energy generation alone. This is a significant increase from the 4% back in 2016. This shows a remarkable growth in the renewable energy sector.

Updated October 2018 - Isabelle Robinson

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References

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Comments

  1. Jacob Jake Grimme Jacob Jake Grimme United States says:

    Germany sucks

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AZoCleantech.com.

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