Coalition deal in Germany could mean boost for solar

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The settlement of coalition talks over the make-up of the next German government could include changes to renewable energy policies that favour solar power generation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany/Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CDU/CSU) grouping of conservative parties is currently in talks over forming a government with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) which has more ambitious renewable energy targets than CDU/CSU.

The 2020 renewable energy target of 35% could be increased to 55-60% by 2035 but with support for wind stripped back, PV could have to fill the gap.

In addition to negotiating on issues including minimum wage levels, rent control laws and a reduction in the pensionable age, the two parties have reached a provisional agreement on energy policy.

Agreed targets have involved some give and take on either side, with Merkel’s party originally aiming for a target of between 50% and 55% of energy production to come from renewables by 2035, roughly in line with the outgoing government's 2030 pledge. The SPD wanted to set a higher target of 75% by 2030 but party leaders agreed to a compromise figure, with 55% to 60% of the nation’s energy mix to come from generation by renewable sources by that date.

In light of the percentage targets, the photovoltaics industry could benefit as a result of changing subsidy levels for wind energy in particular. According to the 185 page document detailing the coalition agreement, policy on PV will remain unchanged from measures set out in the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG), with PV expected to continue enjoying government support at the same level.

However, subsidies for onshore wind farms will be lowered, especially in areas of high wind levels. The agreement between the parties sets a fixed cap on offshore wind capacity of 6.5GW by 2020, to then be reassessed to stay in line with the ‘development corridor’ policy of the EEG. The original government target for offshore wind generation had been to reach 10GW generation capacity by 2020, which has been revised to a target of 15GW by 2030. This makes it possible that the government will expect renewable energy sources other than wind to make up the shortfall in the overall energy mix.

Energy efficiency measures could also be involved in reducing overall consumption although at this stage it is not clear if specific efficiency targets will be set.

There has been some speculation over what would happen to renewable energy policy since the late September announcement of election results. Commentators including the German Renewable Energy Foundation have been confident that the ‘Energiewende’ (‘energy transition’) movement away from dependency on nuclear power will remain a core policy for Germany, including support for renewable energy generation.

The coalition deal and formation of a government still hinges on approval by SPD party members via a referendum to be held during December. If approval is not given, the formation of a coalition with the Green Party remains a possibility, although it is expected that further compromise on several points, including energy policy, would be required for CDU/CSU to persuade the Greens to join talks. The Green Party website refers to the party’s aim to have all energy generated from renewable sources by 2030 and to also reduce electricity consumption in the country 16% by 2020.

The Green party also originally ruled out the possibility of serious coalition talks in mid-October after preliminary meetings between the two parties.

Reacting to the deal struck between the union and SPD, Green Party member of parliament Hans-Josef Fell, who was among the original authors of the EEG, said that the coalition agreement as it stands would protect the coal industry at the expense of renewable energy.

“The state-mandated expansion to cover a maximum of 60% renewable electricity by 2035 means in plain language a decades-long government-mandated protection of climate-damaging coal-fired generation,” he said.

He went on to say that the target would cause a dramatic drop in investment in renewable energy, leading to job losses and bankruptcies in the industry. Speaking specifically about solar power Fell added that: “There is not an industrial policy for the German solar industry that could strengthen it in competition with China.”

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