Germany is without doubt one of the green role models that the world is looking at, especially with respect to its energiewende. But how green is Germany really?
One can obviously use many indicators to approach this question. But a good one that also wakes everyone up to the real task ahead is primary energy consumption. The figure on the right shows primary energy consumption in Germany from 1965 to 2014.
While primary energy consumption has been increasing until 1980, it has since declined. That is good news since it means that, while the German economy grew, its energy consumption shrank. This is an example of what researchers often call decoupling economic growth from (dirty) energy.
However, the share of green energy, ie. wind, hydro and solar, is still very small compared to the dirty inputs like coal, oil and gas. In fact, renewables account for something like less than 10% of energy consumption. During the past 30 years, coal has been substituted mainly by gas, and the renewables substituted mainly for nuclear.
So, while all eyes are set on the energiewende and there is much positive talk about it – and rightly so, especially for the transformation of the electricity sector – we should not forget that even in Germany, in terms of overall contribution to energy consumption, the percent of renewables is still agonizingly small.
Thus, if Germans really want to transform their country into a renewable frontrunner and role model of sustainability for the rest to follow, then much more is needed than only a focus on the energiewende.