Following the recent ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court on the Climate Protection Act, it was clear that climate change will play a key role not only in the election campaign, but also in the coming legislative period, and that it will be the central issue in federal policy alongside the management of the Corona crisis. An important pillar in the fight against climate change is energy policy. It is therefore hardly surprising that the topic features prominently in the election programs and that have been presented so far and in the public debate generally.

Essentially, energy policy in the next four years will be shaped by three key questions: 1. How can we expand renewable energy capacities as quickly as possible? 2. Which technologies do we want to use and to what extent? 3. How do we fund the energy turnaround? A closer look at the election programs and recent positions reveals a more differentiated picture of the debate.

In this article, our expert Johannes Söller will take a look at the election programs of the parties. In doing so, he provides an overview of overlaps and differences between the party programs. He also identifies potential conflicts for possible coalition negotiations.

How can we expand renewable energy capacities as quickly as possible?

The question of expanding renewables as quickly as possible also includes the debate about how quickly and with which regulatory control instruments fossil fuels should be removed from the energy mix. To this end, the Left and Greens are calling for a political commitment to an earlier coal phase-out that would bring forward the end of coal-fired power generation from 2038 to 2030.

Even if the complete switch to renewable energies is the declared goal of all parties, the question remains how the transition period should be structured in the short to medium term and how the loss of coal and nuclear power will be absorbed. Due to the well-developed grid infrastructure, and the lower CO2 footprint compared to coal and oil, the focus clearly lies on natural gas. Thanks to advanced technologies, natural gas, like hydrogen, is also suitable as an efficient intermediate storage medium for electrical energy. Notably, a concrete positioning on the role of natural gas is missing in the election programs published so far. Only the liberal FDP advocates that climate-neutral hydrogen should also be produced from natural gas.

In this context, the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline project is also likely to play a prominent role in the political debate. This is where the biggest differences between the election programs currently emerge. The SPD and the Left, alongside German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier, are the strongest supporters of the project. However, the Greens, FDP and increasingly large sections of the CDU are at least skeptical about the pipeline’s expansion.

An important element of the efficient expansion of renewables is integrated energy, i.e. the use of electric power for the heat and mobility transition. There is a general consensus among the parties that this development should be accelerated. The Greens in particular are focusing on using or storing renewably generated electricity as directly as possible. Other parties are focusing more strongly on hydrogen.

Which technologies do we want to use and to what extent?

The energy turnaround in Germany has so far been driven primarily by solar and wind power. In terms of power generation, this will continue to be the case – along with the occasional use of biomass and hydropower. However, both solar and wind power face regulatory challenges. In the case of wind power, the main challenges are to reconcile further expansion with nature conservation and to transmit the electricity throughout the country. In the case of photovoltaics, the debate focuses on land competition with agriculture and incentive structures for rooftop PV systems.

Since not all renewable electricity can be used directly, the challenge is to use the surplus electricity efficiently and, if possible, without excessive energy losses. In addition to the expansion of interregional distribution grids, to transport wind power from the north to the south, policymakers are focusing primarily on hydrogen as an energy carrier and intermediate storage medium. But here, too, different perspectives can be discerned. While the FDP and SPD want to promote hydrogen relatively openly, the Left Party and the Greens advocate for a limited use in heavy industry, aviation and heavy transport. For individual transport, on the other hand, the focus is on electric cars.

How do we fund the energy turnaround?

The system of levy-based financing introduced 20 years ago is facing a fundamental reform. The parties agree in principle that the EEG reallocation charge, which has already fallen sharply, should be reduced even further in the short term and abolished altogether in the medium term. As a future financing instrument for RE plants, the parties favor the national CO2 price. Since last year, this tax has to be paid for fuel emissions that are not covered by the European emissions trading scheme. A group of CDU Federal MPs led by former Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen also recently called for a comprehensive reform of the system. The group wants to abolish a large part of the taxes and levies and refinance them through a higher CO2 price.

Another aspect that will also play a role in terms of financing is social justice. The Greens, the Left and the SPD are each calling for some form of flat-rate payment for consumers to compensate for rising CO2 prices. After all, despite the expected reduction in the EEG surcharge, electricity prices are not likely to fall noticeably over the coming years. However, the demand for renewable electricity will increase significantly with increased integrated energy. Meanwhile, the Greens and the FDP also want to reduce the electricity tax.

The energy policy stakeholder network faces major changes

In addition to the aforementioned key issues, personnel changes will also have a major influence on energy policy in the coming legislative period. Assuming that the Greens will be part of the government, it is highly likely that the party will take charge in one of its traditional core areas of competence. A frequently discussed scenario for this case is a reorganization of the ministries, in which at least the policy fields of environmental affairs and energy are bundled in one ministry. Two high-ranking party representatives, Robert Habeck and Oliver Krischer, are being floated as future ministers.

On the CDU/CSU side, on the other hand, there will be a reshuffle of personnel in the energy sector. With the deputy parliamentary group chairman Dr. Georg Nüßlein and the previous energy policy spokesman Dr. Joachim Pfeiffer, two influential energy policy experts are leaving the Bundestag. If the Greens take over the energy portfolio, influential posts in the current Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) will also be reshuffled.

There is fundamental agreement between the parties on the overarching energy policy goals. There is also a great deal of overlap on how to get there. In the end, the composition of the governing coalition and the coalition agreement will be decisive in determining the pace at which the energy turnaround is pursued and the specific measures that will be implemented.