Where does electricity come from? Who cares as long as it comes out of the plug socket? For many decades, this was many people’s view. And in Germany, electricity did indeed almost always come out of the socket: on average, the power supply was interrupted for just 12.7 minutes in 2021. There were no prizes, let alone elections, to be won in raising topics such as energy autonomy or grid security. Even the broad climate movement made little impact against cheap fossil fuels and antipathy toward wind turbines.
Then Putin sent his tanks into Ukraine and turned off the gas supplies little by little. Suddenly energy supplies are top of the political agenda. Is renewable electricity coming to the rescue? Can we forgo Russian gas, nuclear power, oil and coal? Or do we have to jettison all our noble climate targets to keep the lights on?
There is some good news: even though the energy transition has been stalling for years, the ground has been laid for considerably more energy independence in terms of electricity supplies. Almost half of Germany’s power supply comes from renewable sources, and the coalition agreement between the country’s governing parties has set a target of 80 percent by the year 2030. Using the wind and sun as the basis for our future electricity supply is no longer a political utopia but the foundation on which energy suppliers and grid operators base their plans. The challenge brought by the energy crisis therefore does not require a change of direction but a rapid effort to breathe new life into the seized-up machinery of the energy transition. The circumstances for this are not ideal: “Supply chains have been broken. There is a shortage of microchips everywhere. The skilled worker shortage has reached a new dimension. These are no longer just challenges but real problems,” says Dr. Thomas Benz, Managing Director of the Society for Energy Technology in VDE (VDE ETG). Despite everything, he is convinced that the transition can and must succeed – provided policymakers now put the right rules in place. “Technically, we are prepared and largely have the solutions in the drawer ready to go. Now we just have to act.”