Renewable energies

Renewable energies1 make a large and growing contribution to Germany’s energy supply. In 2018, the share of renewable energies amounted to 13.7% of the total primary energy consumption.
Source: Working Group on Energy Balances (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen) – March 2020.

The contribution to the electricity sector is particularly high; more than 37.8% of the gross electricity consumption is covered by renewable sources (more than 224,600 GWh). The German government intends to increase the share of renewable energies in the electricity supply to 65% by 2030 and nearly decarbonise the energy supply by 2050 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, around 84% of the German GHG emissions (712 Mt CO2 equivalents) resulted from the combustion of fossil fuels. Currently, fossil-fuelled power plants are needed alongside renewables to meet the energy demand in Germany. Renewable energy technologies require steel, cement or petrochemical raw materials as shown by the following example: The components of a wind turbine consist of roughly 45% crude oil and petrochemical industry products. One wind turbine blade can be 30 to 50 metres long in large wind turbines and it contains up to 12,000 kg of petrochemical products.

Some of the metals required for the energy transition (e. g. electronic elements such as indium, germanium and gallium) are additional raw materials, i. e. they are obtained as by-products during the extraction of a different metal. In the case of these metals, the regulatory mechanisms for the supply of natural resources only function to a limited extent. In Germany and Europe, potential deposits like this do exist, with the result that import dependencies could be reduced through the targeted development of these deposits and investments in the extraction of their natural resources.

In 2018, investments in renewable energies amounted to €13.5 billion, while the operation of the existing plants generated €16.8 billion in sales. The expansion of renewable energies can affect employment by increasing demand for the energies’ related goods and services. In 2018, the renewable energy sector provided employment for more than 340,000 people in total. The focus was on renewable energies in power generation. The expansion of renewable energies in the power sector is financed by feed-in tariffs exceeding the electricity price on the stock exchange for the benefit of the operators of renewable energy plants. These feed-in tariffs are paid by the end users in the form of an additional charge on their electricity bills. If renewable energies are to expand further, industrial energy projects must be suitably combined with the development of the renewable energies. This also applies to the German extractive industry, which has already established a series of wind, biomass, geothermal, solar and hydroelectric power projects in Germany.

Renewable energy sources are used in electricity and heat generation and in the transport sector. The most important renewable energy source in the electricity sector is wind power:
In 2018, 48.9% of the renewable electricity was generated from wind energy. Wind energy plays a vital role in the expansion of renewable energies, an expansion which will ultimately result in an economically- viable and climate-friendly energy supply at reasonable prices and with a high level of general prosperity. The use of wind energy now accounted for more than 18.5% of German electricity consumption in 2018. Wind turbines have been built on various closed mine sites in North Rhine-Westphalia, mainly on now- green colliery slag heaps on which favourable wind conditions exist – and these man-made hills have a “model character” in Germany. In addition to the further development of suitable land sites and the replacement of older, smaller wind turbines by modern and more powerful models – so-called “repowering” – the expansion of wind energy at sea is also becoming increasingly important. In 2018 alone, wind energy turbines were installed with a capacity of around 2,200 MW on land and roughly 1,000 MW at sea. Wind turbines with a total capacity of around 59,000 MW were operating in Germany by the end of 2018. They produced almost 110,000 GWh of electricity, one sixth of which was generated by wind turbines at sea. The Federal Government is planning to have an offshore wind power of 20,000 MW and an onshore wind power of between 67,000 and 71,000 MW on the grid by the year 2030. In view of this expansion and the ever-increasing power units (more than 10 MW per wind turbine), the need for mineral natural resources will also increase. Concrete, for example, is required for the construction of wind turbine foundations. This also means a correspondingly higher demand for limestone for cement production and for aggregates such as gravel and sand.

Biomass has also become a very relevant energy source for electricity generation. The total capacity of biomass electricity generation plants is around 8,400 MW; electricity generation in 2018 amounted to more than 49,000 GWh (8.2% of the total electricity consumption and 21.8% of the renewable electricity generation), In addition to biogas (including biomethane and landfill and sewage gas), solid and liquid biomasses and biogenic waste are also used to generate electricity, but biogas is the most important single biogenic energy source for electricity generation with 59% (2018) of the entire biomass.

Solar energy can also be used to generate electricity. More than 1.5 million photovoltaic plants convert the sun’s radiation energy directly into electricity – these plants represented a total of around 45,300 MW of installed capacity in Germany at the end of 2018, and around 2,900 MW of power were added in that year. Electricity generation from photovoltaics continues to rise steadily as a result, attaining approx. 45,800 GWh in 2018. Photovoltaics thus accounted for 7.7% of the total electricity consumption and contributed 20.5% to the renewable energy supply. German mining companies are also increasingly opting for the use of photovoltaic systems at various mining sites in Germany.
In addition to wind, biomass and photovoltaics, hydropower also contributed to electricity generation with around 18,000 GWh in 2018.

Renewable energy sources are also increasingly being used in the heating sector. In 2018, a total of 171,000 GWh was produced by renewable heat sources. The most important renewable energy sources for heat generation are biogenic solids with 115,500 GWh, produced mainly by wood in the form of e. g. wood pellets. Biogas, biogenic waste and geothermal energy and heat harnessed by heat pumps are also relevant renewable heat sources, each of which generated heat of approx. 13,000 GWh in 2018. As a base load-capable form of energy with a high annual production performance (the target for geothermal power plants target is >8,000 h), deep geothermal energy is a small but indispensable part of a meaningful energy mix. The importance of near-surface geothermal energy or environmental heat for heating is constantly increasing. Solar thermal energy also contributed to the supply of heat with around
8,900 GWh.

In the transport sector, biomass can reduce CO2 emissions, especially in the form of biofuels such as bioethanol, biodiesel and biogas for cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft. Electric vehicles are another option for reducing CO2 emissions. In 2018, renewable energies accounted for 5.7% of fuel consumption in Germany.

Thanks to its flexible use in the electricity, heating and transport sectors, biomass is the most important renewable energy source. In 2018, 53.6% of the total final energy from renewable energy sources was provided by the various types of biomass used for energy purposes.

“The CO2 pricing of emissions, particularly in the fields of heating and transport, is a key climate protection instrument in Germany. Based on the Fuel Emissions Trading Act a national emissions trading scheme will be introduced in Germany from 2021”.2 The price will gradually increase from EUR 25 per tonne CO2 in 2021 to EUR 55 in 2025. The total revenue is estimated at around EUR 40 billions and is to be used to relieve the burden on citizens and industry.3

The expansion of renewable energies helps to avoid greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the use of fossil energy sources which are mainly imported. Despite the expansion of renewable energies, conventional power plants are still needed. Since fossil fuels such as mineral oil, natural gas and hard coal are mostly imported in Germany, savings in this sector will also lead to a reduction in German energy imports: Renewable energies, as well as electricity generation based on Germany’s own energy raw materials can significantly reduce these import dependencies and thus increase energy security.

The demand for natural resources in the field of renewable energies

As part of the preparation of the second D-EITI report, the MSG engaged the Prognos Institute for the preparation of an analysis of the impact of renewable energies on future natural resource requirements and the associated socio-economic implications. The Prognos Institute prepared the study entitled “Raw material requirements in the field of renewable energies” (2019) and submitted it to the MSG. The complete study is available at

However, the study did not deal with the question to which extent the future demand for base and technology metals for EE (renewable energy) plants can be met by the mining of natural resources in Germany. Information on the deposits and extraction of these resources in Germany can be found in the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) reports:

The following sections are taken from the summary of the study. The MSG is neither responsible for the content of the study nor for the contents reproduced here and does not adopt them as its own.

Classification of the renewable energies in Germany’s energy supply and presentation of the natural resources requirements for EE plants

“[…] The conversion of the energy supply to renewable energy sources creates an additional demand for raw materials, while the demand for fossil raw materials is declining. The analysis of the raw material requirements carried out in the report relates both to energy conversion plants (wind power and photovoltaics) and to significant technological changes in the use of energy sources (stationary storage facilities and batteries for electric mobility). The study examined construction raw materials, base metals and technology metals. The estimation of the raw material requirements is carried out until 2030. The estimations are based on a future development of the energy system in Germany according to scenario B of the German grid development plan 2019 of the German transmission grid operators.5 This scenario shows a possible development path of the energy system taking into account the political objectives, i.e. in particular to achieve a share of renewable energies in gross electricity consumption of 65%.

In the case of construction raw materials, raw materials for concrete production play a significant role. In 2018, the demand for concrete used for newly installed wind turbines amounted to 1.8 million tonnes. The average annual demand is expected to remain constant at around this level in the future. However, the demand for construction raw materials caused by the energy transition is rather low compared to the demand in residential and road construction (Germany had a demand for ready-mix concrete of around 115 million tonnes in 2018).

Important base metals for the energy transition are steel and aluminium as well as copper and nickel. Steel is used in many plants as a building material. The demand for steel caused by the energy transition is of secondary importance compared to the overall demand for steel in Germany. Aluminium is widely used in wind turbines and car components. The expansion of electromobility is expected to result in an additional annual demand for aluminium of around 162,000 tonnes in 2030. In addition to wind power and photovoltaic (PV) systems, copper is also used in electric mobility. Copper is likely to experience significant demand impulses as a result of the energy transition. While the copper demand for wind power and PV plants was 11,200 tonnes in 2013, the annual cop- per demand will increase by an additional 73,500 tonnes for batteries, electric motors and power electronics by 2030. The demand for nickel for electromobility is estimated to be around 1,050 tonnes in 2016.

A ramp-up to around 1 million newly registered electric vehicles in 2030 would result in a nickel require- ment of around 56,000 tonnes.

In connection with the energy transition, the technology metals gallium, indium, selenium and silicon are of relevance due to their use in PV modules. The same applies to cobalt and lithium due to their use in lithiumion batteries and to neodymium and dysprosium due to their use in wind turbines and electric motors. The future annual demand for technology metals for the production of PV modules will remain more or less constant. The annual demand for cobalt and lithium is rising significantly due to increasing battery sales. The same applies to the demand for the rare earth metals neodymium and dysprosium. This is in particular due to the increase in electromobility and to a lesser share due to the construction of wind turbines. Table 1 provides an overview of the future demand for technology metals for key technologies of the energy turnaround.

The primary extraction of some of the raw materials required, e. g. cobalt, can be associated with high human rights, social and ecological risks, especially in countries with weak governance structures. In artisanal mining, child labour and a lack of social and safety standards can go hand in hand, which can also lead to health problems for the local population. En- vironmental pollution from the extraction of primary raw materials is also caused, for example, by deforestation (e.g. bauxite extraction), water evaporation (e.g. lithium extraction from salt lakes) and dam fractures (risk at mining sites).

Tabelle I: Demand for technology metals for key technologies of the energy transition according to scenario B 2030

Socio-economic significance of renewable energies

In 1990, the Electricity Feed-in Act (Stromeinspeisungsgesetz) introduced a subsidy mechanism to initiate the transformation of the energy system. For the first time, energy supply companies in Germany were obliged to purchase electrical energy from renewable generation processes (wind- and hydropower as well as solar energy and biomass). Today, the use of renew- able energies in Germany is largely promoted finan- cially by the Renewable Energy Act (EEG). The EEG introduced a levy on electricity consumption (with the exception of energy-intensive commercial consumers) in addition to the electricity price. The levy is used to finance the feed-in tariffs for renewable power generation. The EEG levy for 2019 is 6.4 ct/kWh. The expected levy for 2019 amounts to EUR 23 billion
Employment in the lead market “environmentally friendly energy generation, transport and storage” amounted to 284,000 people in 2018. The number of direct and induced jobs is subject to fluctuations and stood at 338,500 in 2016. Fluctuations in employment can be attributed among other things to fluctuations in the production of renewable energy plants and fluctuations in the number of plants installed in Germany.

A declared goal of the Federal Government is to increase the share of gross electricity consumption from renewable energy sources to 65%. Currently, the share of renewable energies in gross electricity con- sumption is approx. 38%. In order to achieve the tar- geted share, the installed capacity must be increased accordingly from 2018 to 2030. These expansion tar- gets face numerous challenges in the development of renewable resources. Challenges exist with regard to the designation of suitable areas and securing social acceptance.

The report then illustrates the socio-economic significance of renewable energies based on a regional analysis. The following three German regions will be presented: A North German wind region (consisting of the Federal States of Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Lower Saxony) with a focus on wind energy, a Central German region (Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia) with bioenergy use, and a South-East German solar region (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria and Brandenburg), where solar energy plays a major role.

In 2017, 8,100 companies and 50,000 employees were active in the field of renewable energies in the North German wind region. The gross value added in 2018 was about EUR 5 billion. In the wind energy sector, around 4,000 companies and around 17,900 people were employed in 2018, which is roughly double the figure for 2010. Despite the strong growth to date, fluctuations are to be expected regarding future developments. For example, if the expansion of wind power plants stagnates, employment is expected to fall.

In 2017, 16,700 companies and almost 100,000 employees were active in the field of renewable energies in the South-East German solar region. The gross value added in 2018 was about EUR 11 billion. In the field of solar energy, around 5,500 companies with around 20,100 employees were active in 2018, which corresponds to less than half of the 2010 active work- force in the sector. The reasons for the decline in employment and value added include the relocation of plant production abroad and a decline in the installation of new plants compared with the high installation figures during the years 2010 to 2012.

The expansion of renewable energies also faces challenges. These include issues of volatility and security of supply as well as social acceptance of generation capacity expansion. While the majority are generally in favour of expansion, this support varies depending on the type of technology and appears to be decreasing depending on the degree of direct impact. Questions of nature and species conservation as well as noise and odour emissions also lead to acceptance problems.”