Why Germany Went Green

Mariah Lee
December 18, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016

Green Germany

Fig. 1: Wind turbines in Germany. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 2011, Germany decided to shut down all of its nuclear power plants. Eight were closed immediately and nine were set to be phased out by 2022. [1] Additionally, the Energiewende was passed in 2011, initiating a significant shift in German energy policy. The Energiewende is one of the world's most aggressive clean energy policies. It significantly expanded the use of renewable energy sources, primarily wind (see Fig. 1) and solar, with aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 85-90% and carbon dioxide emissions by 40%. [2]

Many believe the decision to shut down Germany's nuclear reactors was due to a change in public opinion after the Fukushima nuclear accident, as the German people protested against the use of nuclear plants.

While the entire world witnessed the devastation after Fukushima, why was Germany the leader of the Green movement?

Why Germany?

Firstly, Germany produces very little of its own non-renewable energy sources, and thus imports most of its oil and natural gas. In 1990, Germany imported 46.5% of it's total energy consumption. In 2011, that number had increased to 61.6%. Germany was importing over half of its energy when Angela Merkel initiated the Green movement. [3]


If we take a look at Germany's current oil statistics we can see just how little domestic oil it produces. In 2013, Germany produced only 2.8% of it's total oil, a mere 2.6 million tons. [4] Additionally, the German Administration expects its oil production to decrease at a rate of 5% annually. [5] While Germany's existing oil fields in Rhineland-Palatinate, Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have remained productive, Germany's largest oil field at Mittelplate/Dieksand in Schleswig-Holstein produced 9.2% less oil in 2013 than it did in 2012. [4] With so little domestic oil, Germany is forced to import. Thus, 97.2% or 90.4 million tons of its oil was imported in 2013. [4] The leading oil suppliers for Germany are Russia, Norway, and Britain, who provide more than 57% of it's imported oil. [4] All of its crude oil is imported through four cross-border pipelines (which transport oil from Russia, the Netherlands, France, and Italy) and four sea ports (three on the North Sea and one on the Baltic Sea). [5] Refined oil is imported through sea ports - in addition to one product pipeline that runs from Rotterdam, Netherlands. [5]

Natural Gas

In 2011, 86% of Germany's natural gas was imported, so only 12% was produced domestically. [5] Germany's biggest suppliers of natural gas: Russia, Norway, and the Netherlands - supplying 39%, 35%, and 22% respectively. [5] All of its natural gas is supplied through a number of cross-border pipelines, bringing gas from mainly Norway, Russia, and the Netherlands. [5] Additionally, it was projected that Germany's domestic oil production would drop 5% each year. [5]

Russia-Ukraine Gas Dispute

In January 2006, a dispute over gas prices between Russia and Ukraine led to a gas crisis for several countries in the European Union. This four-day dispute had instant consequences on western European gas supplies. Hungary was reported to have lost 40% of its Russian supplies; Austria, Slovakia, Romania, and France around 30%; with Poland, Italy, and Germany being affected as well. [6] This crisis prompted an immediate response by Germany. Chancellor Markel, concerned with the security of energy supplies, stated the need for a new "national energy strategy" with measures to diversify energy suppliers and increase renewable energy sources.

Europe's Cold Snap

In February 2012, Europe's "Cold Snap" put Germany's natural gas supply infrastructure under immense pressure. Due to extremely cold temperatures in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe the demand for natural gas increased significantly in South and Southwest Germany. Meanwhile there was a shortage of imported gas from Russia, with 30% less gas at certain entry points. With that said, customers did not experience gas shortages because of gas storage (German natural gas storage facilites were 67.5% full at the time), and a diverse set of natural gas supply routes. [5] Though Germany was prepared in this instance, the example does highlight how external factors could potentially influence Germany energy sources.


Heavy reliance on imported oil and gas produces incredible risks. Due to the fact that Germany produces so little of its own energy, external factors such as foreign policy, climate change, and weather could drastically effect it's energy sources. [7] The Russia-Ukraine gas dispute underscored this fact and led to thoughts concerning a policy shift. While the Fukushima accident highlighted the danger of nuclear energy, it was not the sole reason for Germany's shift to renewable energy sources. Going Green was attractive because it meant that Germany would become more self-sufficient. Though this may not have been proven true, the thought was that going Green would enable Germany to produce its own energy using renewable sources, become less dependent on other countries, and in turn have increased energy security.

© Mariah Lee. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Kramer, "German Nuclear Transition to Renewable Energy," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2012.

[2] M. Xiao, "Germany's Energiewende," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2015.

[3] "The EU Was Dependent on Energy Imports For Slightly Over Half of Its Consumption in 2014," Eurostat, 4 Feb 16.

[4] C. Rühl, "Energy Study: Reserves, Resources and Availability of Energy Resources," German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), December 2014.

[5] "Oil and Gas Security: Germany," International Energy Agency, 2012.

[6] J. Stern, The Russian-Ukrainian Gas Crisis of January 2006, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, 16 Jan 16.

[7] R. Fuchs, "Germany's Russian Energy Dilemma," Deutsche Welle, 29 Mar 14.