Germany’s cabinet approved a series of laws to make possible an exit from atomic energy by the end of 2022, including measures for a massive increase of onshore and offshore wind power, the accelerated expansion of the electricity grid, and more gas-fired generation capacity.
Despite being behind schedule on plans for wind parks off Germany’s North and Baltic Sea coasts, the government is sticking to an ambitious offshore wind-energy target.
“We want to expand wind power at sea in the next 20 years, to a [generating] capacity of 25 gigawatts,” Transport and Construction Minister Peter Ramsauer said at a press conference. “That is equivalent to the generating capacity of 18 to 20 nuclear power stations.”
The cabinet agreed a gradual phase-out from nuclear power, with one of its 17 nuclear power stations each being switched off in 2015, 2017 and 2019, and three each in 2021 and 2022, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said.
Another seven reactors, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered be temporarily shut in March following the disasters at the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, are to stay switched off. An eighth plant that had been off the grid for a review will also remain shut.
Ms. Merkel—under immense pressure from mass protests against nuclear power in Germany and an increasingly antinuclear electorate—has tried to reach a consensus on her nuclear-exit strategy with the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.
“We transform an issue of decades of fights in society to a consensus,” Mr. Roettgen said Monday, adding that the strategy will make Germany more competitive and link economic growth to a “perspective for the future.”
Wind is a key part of the equation as Germany targets to boost the share of its electricity consumption met by renewable power from 17% to 35% by 2020, 50% by 2030, and 80% by 2050.
To kick-start the construction of more offshore wind farms, Germany’s KfW development bank will finance 10 wind farms with a combined €5 billion. The government also has decided to delay the start of an annual lowering of subsidies for offshore wind power to 2018 from 2015.
The government plans to facilitate the upgrading—or repowering as it is known—of existing wind farms with more potent and efficient turbines, Mr. Ramsauer said.
Another law seeks to accelerate the construction of more transmission lines to bring electricity from onshore and offshore wind farms in northern Germany to industrial centers in the south.
The government amended the planned annual rate of decrease in the size of subsidies for onshore wind power to 1.5% instead of 2%.
But Mr. Roettgen insisted that subsidies must be phased out eventually. “We want and will introduce renewable energy to the market,” he said.
The government also decided to scrap further cuts in solar-energy subsidies that it had considered. Instead, it will maintain a system of reducing solar subsidies by a base rate of 9% each year, to be complemented by a variable percentage rate, depending on how much new generation capacity is installed each year.
Germany promotes photovoltaic solar energy facilities—mostly rooftop installations—through feed-in rates that guarantee minimum prices for the electricity they generate. Effectively, electricity consumers are paying for subsidizing renewable energies.
To avoid supply shortfalls, the government is banking on a faster expansion of renewable energies and new fossil-fueled power plants.
In particular, gas-fired power plants—which emit less carbon dioxide than coal-power plants and are cheaper to build—are supposed the fill the gap that the nuclear exit will leave.
The government plans to create incentives for the construction of new gas-fired power plants, but to promote competition and break the dominance of the four incumbent power producers— AG,AG, EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG and Vattenfall Europe—the support will be limited to utilities that own less than 5% of Germany’s electricity-production capacity.
Economics Minister Philipp Roesler said Monday that around 10 gigawatts of new fossil-fueled generation capacity are under construction and due to begin service by 2013. He added, however, that another 10 gigawatts of coal and gas-fired power plants will be needed by 2020 to secure power supply.
Energy utilities, however, have said that power prices are too low to make the construction of such power plants economically viable.
The government also will allocate €1.5 billion a year to make buildings more energy-efficient.