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The Role of Renewable Energy in German Climate Change Policy

Michael Hatch

Germany has been a leader in regional and international efforts to address climate change. Renewable energy has assumed a central role in national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This article analyzes the various policy instruments that have helped Germany become the world’s largest producer of renewable energy, most importantly the Electricity Feed-In Act and Renewable Energy Sources Act. At the same time, it looks at the political, technical/technological and economic factors that have limited the effect of other policy instruments on the expansion of renewables (e.g., ecological tax reform and the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme). The article then investigates potential barriers to the further expansion of renewable energy over the near- and longer-term. These include: the impact of the financial crisis on investments, especially in light of plans to shift future wind power generation to offshore parks; an out-dated grid representing potential choke points; the need for a smart grid that can better manage supply and demand, especially in light of concerns about the intermittent nature of wind power and photovoltaics; questions about the impact of the proposed delay in the nuclear phase-out on the continued expansion of renewables; and reservations about the types of “first-generation” biofuels initially encouraged by the policies adopted in Germany and the EU.


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